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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

John Dwyer, Nick Murray, Brad Caulkins, Greg Coates & Tom Dolas - Witch Egg (Rock Is Hell Records, 2021) ****

By Martin Schray

John Dwyer is the leader of the alternative rock band The Oh Sees (sometimes also known as Osees), a band that does pretty much everything from extensive prog rock to garage punk ditties. Dwyer, however, has long harboured a fondness for avant-garde free jazz, and with Witch Egg he has assembled a vehicle to indulge that love. In this, Dwyer is more consummate professional than dilettante and so Witch Egg proves to be an instrumental jazz DIY concoction with the man itself on guitar, Nick Murray (a former Osees member) on drums, Brad Caulkins on saxophone, Greg Coates on bass and Tom Dolas (a fellow member of Dwyer's recently launched Bent Arcana project) on keyboards and synthesizers.

Witch Egg (the album) is a collection of eight relatively short tracks (between two and a half and seven minutes) that are less reminiscent of sprawling jazz pieces than Krautrock exercises. A lot of genres are served without becoming arbitrary or even haphazard. The opener “Greener Pools" is a jumble of psychedelic guitar chords and drumrolls that integrate a freewheeling saxophone while the bass holds down the fort. From there, a synthesizer carpet woven with a few concise notes glides into screeching woodwinds to lead into “City Maggot“, which then quotes the Chilean neo-hippie band Föllakzoid, the riff from their hit "Trees" to be exact. In general, Krautrock is the basis and the lifeblood of this album, especially the seminal German band Can is extensively referenced, for example in “Your Hatless Friend“, which clearly alludes to their signature track “Mother Sky“. This is followed by the title track, a gloomy lament, closely followed by “Baphomet“, in which the synths approach and then move away again as if we were in the middle of a helicopter attack. The brain is properly kneaded, but the piece is also a resting place before the closer “On Your Own Now“ brings back the groove with a bouncy, smooth saxophone riff.

Witch Egg is always song-based, which is especially true because the drums use to play time and Nick Murray therefore functions as the one who delivers a rocksolid foundation. Free playing is mainly left to Brad Caulkins’s sax and the electronics, who also provide wild elements. “This one is a burner designed optimally for your eco-pod sound system,” Dwyer writes in the band’s press release. “When you’ve left the world behind, you will need a soundtrack while you lay in dream stasis.” If Witch Egg can be interpreted as the soundtrack for a 1970s horror film or a future dystopia … well, that’s up to you. It’s definitely an interesting combination of hippie psychedelia and free jazz that works quite nicely. Imagine the 13th Floor Elevators had a jam session with Ornette Coleman. For fans of Peter Brötzmann’s collaboration with the Portuguese stoner rock band Black Bombain.

Witch Egg is available on vinyl and as a download.

You can listen to the album here: