Witness – Before The Calm

Witness - Before The CalmOf course, by now, most of the bands I was listening to in the mid-90’s have split up. The “New Rock Revolution” was viewed as a ground-zero for music by a lot of people. The Strokes and the White Stripes stipped rock music down to it’s core elements and made music exciting and sexy to a degree. They also wrote brilliant songs and this is what the preceeding few years lacked; some kind of cohesive anthem that people could listen to, enjoy and take further. Speaking personally, there’s lots of great songs that don’t get a lot of credit nowadays. There’s also the matter of some classic albums by the Flaming Lips (The Soft Bulletin), Wilco (Summerteeth) and Mercury Rev (Deserter’s Songs). Another of these albums (but far less known) is the debut from Witess.

Witness released Before The Calm in 1999 and drew from the more introspective moments of bands like the Verve, Radiohead and Jeff Buckley. Singer Gerald Starkie didn’t have the vocal range of someone like Buckley and guitarist Ray Chan didn’t have the sonic fireworks of the Verve’s Nick McCabe, but together the managed to make some understated songs that stuck in my mind for years. The lyrics alternate between a stark bleakness and desperate hope. Opener “Second Life” starts with a delicate xylophone and the words “No more mistakes/I’m coming around again” before some delicate guitar chimes in. Tracks like “Audition” and “Scars” show a more aggressive side with some snarling guitar work. But Before The Calm is mostly a sublte and intimate album.

Some of the best tracks contain just small moments. In “Audition” it’s when the swooning guitar comes in on the chorus; it’s the shreiking slide guitar that hits a perfect chord for a brief second; it’s the last lines in “Still” when Starkie’s voice almost breaks with the emotion of the song. There’s lots of moments that’ll stick in your head. If you can find this album, then you’re guarenteed to have hear something that’s going to stay with you and make a connection.

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