The hyper-active brushwork, the busily plucked bass strings, the wailing of a saxophone off to one side… the thick and heady/heavy atmosphere created on the opening track suggests that Witxes are another band in thrall to what’s rapidly becoming a sub-genre of David Lynch-inspired jazz; effective at conjuring up a atmosphere but without any real direction or, indeed, conclusion.
But that’s to seriously under-estimate this outfit – whilst the unsettling feeling remains, enveloping the whole album, the overly jazzy opening doesn’t even last the whole length of the opener, which plays out its final minute with a strummed acoustic guitar. Maxime Vavasseur – for he is Witxes, with a few guests helping out on the jazzier pieces – describes this project as ‘schizophrenic’, and that is as accurate a way as any to picture the different sounds interweaving within Witxes; at one moment it can be light, charming even, but then a few bars later the music becomes much darker in mood. It’s worth noting at this point that the thoughtful development of the individual pieces and the way they are assembled within the larger frame means that Sorcery/Geography is not an album to idly stick on shuffle and hope for the best. This is an album that needs attention – demands it, in fact – from start to finish.
The overwhelming impression of Witxes is indeed as if there are multiple personalities fighting within the music; for example, the delicate piano that opens “Thirteen Emeralds” is soon subsumed by a menacing deep, bass drone, and the piano chords refract into shimmering pools of sound as a fuzzed-up guitar powers through the centre of the piece. The shift in tone is subtle, so one doesn’t immediately notice the change of mood, but the effect is gripping. This isn’t a unique example of the techniques that Vavasseur employs either and one can go from relaxed to unsettled within a few moments of nearly every piece. Played individually, it’s unlikely the tracks would work in such a way but the cumulative effect is really quite chilling. The metal scraping in “Misscience” might be too much for the more delicate souls among us; listen to this late at night and there’s no chance of dropping off to sleep any time soon.
It becomes apparent that the opening salvo of “Unlocation” is a misdirect, promising an album of jazz but instead delivering sinister ambience in its place – when the group return, on “Somewhere”, there’s an altogether different vibe going on. It’s a bold ploy but it pays off handsomely, and rather than continuing to conjure up images of Lynchian jazz, the overall feel of the album winds up closer to the industrial noises and atmospheres of Eraserhead – a different influence from the same director. The tricky misdirects continue right up to the album’s conclusion, too, with a small flicker of light at the end of a very dark and unnerving tunnel. Sorcery/Geography is a powerful record, subtle, bleak and magnificent. (Jeremy Bye)