Those who trade on animosity often like to switch things up for a subdued side project. See the likes of Dallas Green's side project City and Colour or Trent Reznor, who has gone full-time as a composer and has just bagged himself an Oscar for The Social Network score. He's a little too contented these days to be singing 'March of the Pigs,' which for a man in his 40s isn't hard to understand.
The problematic aspect of these side projects is that they can sometimes seem self-indulgent, and this is a charge that has often been laid at the feet of Derek Fudesco. Fudesco's first big-time band, Seattle art-punks Pretty Girls Make Graves, burned briefly and intensely. PGMG split after 3 studio albums back in 2007. He has since then established a steady back and forth between Murder City Devils and The Cave Singers. No Witch is the latter's 3rd album now on Secretly Canadian, and yet there isn't quite the fully realized direction we'd expect from someone this far in.
Plodding simplicity is something that they have been accused of, and being a little thin. In their defence, No Witch is a direct response to these criticisms. Stylistically it sees them branch out in a few different directions, though they are essentially branches of the same tree.
Opener 'Gift and the Raft' betrays little of this shift, it begins with a sweetly simple intro at a gentle pace, invoking memories of much of their catalogue. 'Swim Club' is similarly pleasant, if forgettable.
A more raucous number is unleashed in the form of 'Black Leaf' and suddenly Cave Singers have a fire lit under them. There's a rattling, angry blues guitar met with equal aggression in Pete Quirk's snarl: 'Those who wanna kill me/better take my soul.'
'Falls' is bluesier yet bloated; the vocals reminiscent of Ryan Adams, with the heavy handed touch of the gospel choir suggesting that they've been trawling Exile on Main St for ideas. They wouldn't be the first band to do that after all. So it's equally unsurprising to see them take inspiration from The Beatles and Brian Jonestown on 'Outer Realms,' on which the syrupy psych guitar and bongos resonate but fail to convince me to wander in the desert.
You may be able to see my point here: Stylistically it's a little mixed up, and a little pastiche. The problem is that No Witch feels like a knee jerk reaction rather than something that came together organically. You get the impression that Cave Singers are reading their own press, and as a result there's a lack of narrative and perhaps even authenticity to their experiments.
It's not a terrible album, and it does have certain charms which warm with familiarity, but it's just a little lacking in places. Perhaps it's time for the Cave Singers to decide which band they want to be in and concentrate their efforts in that direction. Until then they'll probably continue to come off as half-assed.