You should know, going into Witxes’ new release, Sorcery/Geography, that bandleader Maxime Vavasseur calls this album “schizophrenic.” I’m here to tell you that a) he’s right and b) that might be okay, depending on your level of musical open-mindedness. This schizophrenia manifests in something that could be considered diversity but it’s abruptly changing, sometimes middle-of-the-road abrupt, disjointed-feeling diversity. The opener, “Unlocation,” is a prime example. It rises up out of a gauzy drone, twists into clattering percussion with jazzy, wandering sax lurking under the mix–and then everything stops. Not a little bit of stop, it just stops with one fading cymbal crash, and suddenly it’s acoustic guitar and cold-wind drone. But lest you think either of these are the direction in which we’re headed, the very next track is a deep, dark grind of drone, with rasping strings from Christopher Honeyman’s double bass. Vavassuer and company manage all these changes well. Each track, taken on its own, has a lot to examine, but they’re also flowed together well, so that you’re not given much of a chance to process one direction before the next kicks in. I like the sparse dronework at play in the combination of the mumbling, interference-spattered “Misscience” and the somewhat more dynamic “Dunes of Steel,” which starts with single, almost clumsily picked notes and then buries everything in a whitish wash of noise. Within that wash, though, you can listen to the movement, the shifting of layers, and a progression of chords. The sax on this disc, courtesy of Pierre-Loup Mollard, brings that excellent touch of free jazz in the reversed-sound-packed “Canyon Improbable.” Against another big wall of increasing sound, it plays with its own echoes in a growing tangle. (To my ears, on this track, at about the 2:45 mark there’s a change in the mix that sounds a lot like a mistake. It may just be Vavasseur’s way of manipulating this track, but it almost sounds like a channel cutting out–the sound suddenly becomes oddly thin.) The sax is at its best, however, in “Somewhere.” This is the surprise of the disc for me, with Mollard wailing away over shifting drones. Given the timbre of the rest of the disc, you keep waiting for it to suddenly bang out a left turn and head somewhere odd, but it never does. It moves in a simple, organic line that makes excellent sense. And just to keep you guessing, the disc closes with a forlorn folk song, just Vavassuer and his guitar. Because, you know, schizophrenic.
Sorcery/Geography takes some getting used to and getting into. It’s not easy, and its chameleonic tones don’t offer a simple anchor point for listening. Worth giving a chance but, as stated, bring your open mind.
Available at Bandcamp.