“Witch Is Dead”
October 30, 2012 - Warner Bros.
While the marketing behind West End Motel’s sophomore release is keen to draw attention to the presence of Mastodon’s Brent Hinds in the band’s ranks, Only Time Can Tell is a far cry from the metal demigod’s day job. Working with long time collaborator Tom Cheshire, rockabilly and surf rock with strong flavors of Stax and Motown soul prevail, yet a smorgasbord of disparate influences also insinuate their way into this mix, ensuring no two songs are alike. Comprised of eight tracks, it is a strangely weighted record in that the first three are drenched in sunshine and drunken swagger, while the subsequent five are far darker affairs. Opener “Burn It Down” sounds birthed on the beaches of Hawaii in high summer as it sways and bobs along, while “El Myr” injects a dose of reggae into its fiber, teetering along on the brink of collapsing into a pleasant stupor, but it is “Witch Is Dead” that is the strongest of this upbeat salvo. With a bold Born To Run-era Bruce Springsteen feel it manages to be uplifting and poignant at the same time, driven on a surging horn-drenched groove that is intoxicating, and it’s the kind of song that demands to be played again the moment it falls silent.
Of the more somber tracks, the strongest is “Bite,” which has something desperate bubbling beneath the surface, Hinds’ droning vocals in the verses inducing discomfort, albeit in a compelling fashion. It’s not a stretch to imagine the cha-cha-cha stumbling of “Forgiveness” turning up in a Quentin Tarantino film, and “Valentine” makes for a very downbeat conclusion to proceedings, leaving behind a heavy, depressive air as it fades away. Each of these tracks has been lovingly crafted, the interplay within the instrumentation and the contrasting vocal styles of Hinds and Cheshire bringing depth and character, also displaying a keen ear when it comes to not forcing their hands, letting the songs breathe. It is a shame that there is not more along the lines of those that start things off sprinkled throughout the album’s second half, which may have made for a more cohesive collection, but this does not detract from the quality of the individual songs. As long as you don’t approach Only Time Can Tell expecting contorted progressive metal, and you give yourself over to its eclectic charms there is a great deal here to enjoy, and the more time you give it the more it gives back.