Initial Review : Marram – Witches Are Our Mothers
OK. The last word of Witches Are Our Mothers, as the dawn unfolds, sits tantalisingly apart from the storm. It is acceptance but not submission. It might be exultation. Certainly, it is not what has come before. OK.
Witches Are Our Mothers is a brutalising, beautiful record. It is an album about loss, about rage, about grief. It is at once deeply personal – there are aspects that, I suspect, will only ever truly be understood by its creators – and completely open. Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile once described the artist’s search for the ineffable, of the moment when emotion is everything. This yearning informed his own band’s finest work, and it informs every moment of Witches Are Our Mothers. This is a record in which every song could be – is – the emotional core. Every moment matters.
There are nine songs here, though such is their intricacy and complexity that they could be many more. The closing two tracks, ‘Let It Break’ and ‘OK’, are a symphony in and of themselves. As a complete work, the album defies simple classification. If we must classify, then OK, it is an orchestral composition for electronics and other instruments – not least Jamie Chambers’s magnificent voice, at its most devastating on the harrowing ‘Tell Me Your Fear’. Yet there are also mighty, Memphis grooves meeting Reichian pulses (‘Cowards’). There is devotional R&B (‘Let It Break’). There is the hellish, compelling swing of ‘Forest Fire’ – which in turn ignites from the flickering menace of ‘Dry Wood’, its shards of instrumentation kindling for a white-hot fury. And throughout it all there is a sonic mastery which shapes the songs into something stunning. For a few lucky bands, a song like the 13-minute excoriation ‘I Am A Liar’ would be the culmination of a career; here, it is the second track, a maelstrom which, eight and a half minutes in, literally drowns everything before it, submerging the song beneath the waves for nigh on two more minutes before it emerges, gasping, grasping. Again: this is only track two.
This might sound overwhelming. OK: and it is. Yet what is emotion – Buchanan’s idea of the ineffable – if not sometimes overwhelming? This is what it is to be human: suffering is elementary to our existence. Where Witches Are Our Mothers soars is in its recognition that we are more than this: that we can survive the storm and emerge stronger, bloodied but unbowed. The self-loathing – and which of us doesn’t know self-loathing? – that bleeds through ‘I Am A Liar’ and the equally monumental ‘Heart Of Hearts’ is balanced with a beautiful recognition that we are all, every one of us, flawed; and moreover that these flaws are essential, and make us whole. If we can learn to make room for all of this, we can thrive – and it is this more than anything that is at the soul of Witches Are Our Mothers. Listen carefully to the quotidian horror of ‘Heart Of Hearts’ – a song that belies Chambers’s roots as a film-maker: it is its own visual – and there is the beginning of a recognition that thinking and knowing are not the same; that we are not defined by the stories others tell us, or the stories we tell ourselves.
At the finale, through all eighteen mesmerising minutes of ‘Let It Break’ and ‘OK’, the light pours in. This is the breaking not of a heart but of the dawn. This is a recognition that we have room for all of this and more. It surges into something deft, dancing, its tonal shift reflecting the psychological freedom that has been found, even if only fleetingly. It is the moment that matters.
The album ends with a promise, a commitment. It is almost too personal to bear, and here it is laid bare. There is loss and there is hope. There is pain and there is love. There is room for all of this and more. We will be, in the end, OK.
(The Glasgow Herald, The Big Issue)