At the mercy of dilettantes.
Listening to Them for the First Time

by David Schmader

New to the Cave Singers but well-steeped in the artists they presumably love and emulate—essentially, the whole genre of white guys with guitars and feelings, from Gram Parsons to Creedence to Kings of Leon—I came to No Witch expecting not innovation but passion, a reconfiguring and redeployment of age-old elements in a way that makes me happy to be alive in 2011. Musically, it's there, with No Witch finding the band strutting across a mountain range of styles, seemingly capable of making any kind of music they want, the vast majority of it wily and dramatic and powered by its own unique chemistry. Then there are the lyrics, which ramble confidently past the ear but wither under inspection. In "Gifts and the Raft," singer Pete Quirk takes 43 syllables to say what the Jackson 5 made clear in four: I want you back. But the music is rich enough to make you overlook the gassy poetry.

That First Song

by Bethany Jean Clement

These are the lyrics to that first song, "Gifts and the Raft":

I'm afraid, but I'm on my way/And in your place, a brief rainbow/Maybe you'll stay and furnish our home/I should never, ever, ever let you go/Smooth sailing /Who's running/Yeah it seems like everything about peace/Even every field that we freed/Even all the days in the haze in the heat/Nothing causes more alarm than your absence from my sheets/Can we agree/Can we agree now/Cheers and gratitude to all and God bless ya/Tears and gratitude to all but who's listening/Cheers and gratitude to all and God bless ya.

A rainbow, home furnishing, never-let-you-go (with the notable innovation of no "baby"), the ever-popular sailing without roughness—the only image that catches the mind here is "every field that we freed." How do you free a field? I saw a field of sugarcane burn to the ground once, walls of fire and waves of heat and all kinds of rodents and slithery things fleeing out along the earth. The burn was planned—part of the cycle of growing the cane—but it felt apocalyptic, unhinged. For every mouse that ran out, you knew millions more were incinerating. You can use that, Cave Singers.

Thanks for Putting Blind Melon in My Head

by Anthony Hecht

I've listened to this album every way I can think of—walking, eating, working, sleeping—and I can't find the right way to do it. It put a hitch in my giddyap when I was walking; I could never find the rhythm, uphill or down. It did nothing for my appetite or my productivity, and hell if it helped me sleep. There's no doubt the quieter tracks are stronger. "Outer Realms," "Haller Lake," "Gifts and the Raft," "Distant Sures"—these seem natural and right with Pete Quirk's Stevie Nicks–like voice. (Yes, he's a dude, and he sings like a dude, but so does Stevie Nicks.) Then "Black Leaf" comes along, trying to get up and go, but boring boring boring. And I'll never forgive that riff in "Clever Creatures" for sticking Blind Melon back into my head. Never.

Flirting with Their Dark Side

by Megan Seling

The only reason I gave a shit about the Cave Singers in the first place was because of where the band members came from. Singer Pete Quirk was the hyper, snotty singer of Hint Hint, a synth-laced dance-punk band. Derek Fudesco was (and is again) bassist for the infamously raucous Murder City Devils. And drummer Marty Lund did time in the post-rock trio Cobra High. Imagine my surprise when, back in 2007, the Cave Singers debuted with Invitation Songs, a collection of tunes better suited for long summer days in quiet Southern towns, preferably with a jar of sweet tea and some kind of porch swing. What the fuck, right? While this third release offers little change to their formula (repetitive, easy guitar parts; soft rhythm; and warm, worn vocals), it is nice to hear them flirt just a little bit with their badass side in the songs "Black Leaf" and "No Prosecution if We Bail," both of which would make a pretty killer soundtrack to a drunken bar fight.

I Don't Like It When You Yell at Me

by Eli Sanders

Stop yelling at me, Cave Singers. It makes me feel like I got seduced by a sweet, humble, harmonizing group of backwoods boys—the boys of "Gifts and the Raft" and "Haller Lake"—and then they led me through a gap in the wire fence, across the sheep meadow, down into the gulley for a game of "Swim Club" (which was lovely, I will always remember it fondly), and then, as the sun went down, they lit a fire and pulled out some "Black Leaf," and things got ugly. All that shouting about "Haystacks" and "Outer Realms," all the boasting of "No Prosecution if We Bail." It scared me. It didn't matter that you returned, occasionally, to moments of sweetness. I'd seen the other side of you. It was ugly, and it taught me, too late, that there's nothing worse than traveling deep into the woods, deep into the night, with some seemingly sensitive boys who suddenly decide to transform into loud and rough beasts.

I'm Sorry

by Jen Graves

Iam going to apologize straightaway, because this is not going to be nice. But when I listen to this album, I ask myself the entire way through why I am listening to this album. It feels like the kind of music that takes audiences entirely for granted. You have the people's attention, but you have no idea how to direct it. This question arises especially in folky music, and this is undoubtedly folky music, whether the band cops to it or not. Folks. This country is losing a war and undergoing a demographic shifting the likes of which it has never before seen, politicians and innocents are being shot in the name of Tea Party madness, and you are post-­swampy-­jamming? You would like to be taken to the river? Musical picnickers.

Hold the Jam

by Paul Constant

An unfortunate impulse keeps popping up on No Witch, and that is the Jam Band Impulse. "Black Leaf" grows too big, too fast. The salty licks get compounded with organ and hand claps, and it just meanders around in half circles, staggering from here to there for way too long. It sounds like a little tiny white kid all dressed up in R. L. Burnside's clothing throwing a fit. On the other side of the spectrum, "All Land Crabs and Divinity Ghosts" is the Fleetwood Mac vibe at its most wasteful: It's just tambourines and a guitar riff, galloping to nowhere.

When they have focus and a destination, the Cave Singers can prick your brain like a stainless-steel instrument, targeting a very specific place inside you without your even realizing it. No Witch is a blend of these two sides of the band: The knowing pop stars and the rambling self-indulgers each claim about half of the record. There's an EP hidden inside this album ("No Prosecution if We Bail," "Swim Club," "Haller Lake," "Haystacks," and "Clever Creatures") that will spark fits of apoplectic joy. The rest is unsavory jam.

You're Wrong About One Song, Paul

by Cienna Madrid

I'm not particularly music-savvy. Band names run in and out of my ears like rainwater. I know what a guitar is, but I can't distinguish a harmonica from the sound of my cat in heat. But I love music in my odd, graceless, pedestrian way. And I'm picky about it. I hear a song I like and I'll commit to that song—breathe deep and really commit—in a way I never will to marriage or a cell phone contract or military service. I'll listen to one song for hours, days on repeat. Like the Cave Singers' "All Land Crabs and Divinity Ghosts," which entered my ear and has been buzzing around like a mosquito on island holiday ever since. The song starts with a simple guitar chord and drum roll, and then it breaks like a sunrise with tambourines and trilling wind instruments and who the fuck knows what else. The point is that it's fun and optimistic and it makes me smile every time.

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The Folk-Rock Summit

by Dave Segal

For No Witch, the Cave Singers tapped producer Randall Dunn (Sunn O))), Master Musicians of Bukkake) to work his infernal magic. The changes are subtle, but striking. The sound palette is more expansive (hand percussion, violin, organs, female backing vocals), and the Cave Singers summon soul, gospel, electric blues, and psychedelics with which to festoon their steadfast, stark folk-rock foundation. The dominant element remains Pete Quirk's voice—a strafing bray that encrusts the music with dump-truck rust and nettles. No Witch finds the Cave Singers snaking out of their comfort zone and, in the process, elevating themselves to the summit of Seattle's folk-rock mountain. recommended