Above all else, the first thing you need to know about All Them Witches is that nothing is exactly as it seems. If all you saw was the album cover, you could justifiably assume it was the work of a metal or stoner rock band – but you’d be wrong. If all you heard was the group’s name, you might mistake them for that project Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones did together but, again, you could not be further from correct. Finally – if you were of the assumption that you could throw Dying Surfer Meets His Maker on and the music might fade into the background or play as incidental stuff which could be ignored, you’d be wrong again. Strike three, you’re out – every microtone of music on Dying Surfer Meets His Maker avoids all easy generic qualifiers; either you pay attention and really listen, or you will be denied satisfaction.
That spirit of meeting this record and the music on it on its own terms arrives set in stone from the moment “Call Me Star” brings the lights up on the proceedings. There, an almost pastoral vibe is the first thing listeners will feel as singer/guitarist Charles Parks stumbles out and slowly whispers “Call me star” modestly over a warm, absent-minded acoustic guitar figure. It might seem unlikely, but the way “Call Me Star” begins is a great anti-hook; when they hear it, listeners of the right mind and disposition will run headlong toward the strains to find out what they’re missing because it does sound so modest and spare and, when they do catch it, that’s when Robby Stabbler’s drums and Allan Cleave’s keys, violin and bass leap in and suddenly hold listeners transfixed. The effect is classic – like the moment in Wizard Of Oz when the picture shifts from black and white to dazzling technicolor – but will also feel exciting because it feels fresh, new and bright. It’s awesome and that Parks never stops sounding like he either just rolled out of bed or might be dreaming the whole thing into reality is fantastical.
After “Call Me Star” disarms them, listeners will find they’re hit so hard by “El Centro” that their jaws will actually drop. There, decades of desert rock deities (Kyuss, Meat Puppets, 13 th Floor Elevators and more) converge and descend upon listeners all at once; the guitars and drums erect and then paint walls to look feel like desert panoramas which are beautiful and picturesque, but also potentially dangerous and frightening. While “El Centro” is wordless, that is the spirit which endures through (lyrically graced) songs like “Dirt Preachers,” “This Is Where It Falls Apart,” “Talisman” and “Blood and Sand”; each of those turns may attempt to draw out different lyrical images, but the sound and sensation of the songs is the dominant pull which knits them together and makes the album a dark, beautiful and moody-at-least whole; it is harrowing, gothic and ominous, but energizing and exciting too. That’s one of the best things about Dying Surfer Meets His Maker: the outside raises questions and generates a lot of interest and curiosity, but the record better than rewards it all by defying expectation and doing something which is both completely unique and one-of-a-kind.