Races, why did I wait so long to uncover your epic, sad beauty? I kept hearing my friend Caleb over at Epic Concoction talking about the band Races, and like the stubborn fool that I am I wrote him off. But when I decided to help out Frenchkiss with some street team work, and they comped me a CD as a thank you, I was stunned. The second I pressed play on ‘The Year Of The Child’, the opening track on this album, I was transported into a sighing, straining world full of heartbreak, betrayal & beauty. What is it in me that draws me to the saddest, unbelievably tragic projects? For some reason I always find the most lonesome and longing songs to be the most beautiful. Well, as that is the case, Races first full-length release “Year Of The Witch” is perfectly suited to my ear.
I imagine the refrain of the opening track “I wanna be back where / It all began” refers to the birth of myself, the birth of the singer, the birth of any listener. The instantaneous moment when I first had life, when I was born, the magic and mystery that surrounded that moment of existence is captured in this song. Somehow this track takes all of that childlike wonder and wraps it in nostalgic, backward looking desire. One of the most stunningly emotional openings for a record I have heard for a long time. I haven’t felt this attached to an album so quickly since I heard ‘Neighborhoods #1 (Tunnels)’ the opening track off “Funeral” by Arcade Fire.
Races frontman Wade Ryff isn’t afraid to take the rickety old stairs up to the attic and explore all the old boxes full of painful memories that are certain to bring tears to your eyes. The lyrics are clearly subjective experiences but they’re so heartfelt they sound just like they’re your subjective experiences. Walls of sound surround delicate pain-laced thoughts that are as addicting as looking at old pictures of your first love. Both ‘Song Of Birds’ and ‘Lies’ are traps set to get you stuck in a cycle of old memories for days. Traps, because you didn’t expect them and you can’t get out. But these songs are more than traps because listening to them actually makes you lose all desire to escape. Memories are recalled with the perfection that only love, betrayal and sadness can imbue them with, and the fleeting happiness they bring seems too precious to leave behind for the icy return to reality.
The thing I really appreciate about this album, is the come down from these memories. As explored in ‘Living Cruel & Rude’ Ryff admits to the undeniable negative, hateful behaviors that heartbreak can incite in us. “Growing cold and mean / This doesn’t feel at all like me” he mournfully laments, acknowledging the immense power that pain has to turn a heart black and hard. This never feels like a break up record, though, this never feels like a diary entry or a confession from a singer songwriter. This record feels like the actual experience of living through a heartbreak. If you never have, you probably won’t understand this record. If you have, you’ll gaze in awe at the masterpiece Races has created, effectively channeling pain into one of the most gorgeous albums of the year.
But Races delves into other spiritual and emotional topics too. ‘In My Name’ is a compelling take on Biblical myths. Religious imagery takes a dark turn along with the music, female vocals ooh in and out of the forefront even as Eve’s deception of Adam is discussed. ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ is marvelous, as the only song on the record that utilizes the female vocalists as the primary voices. Don’t get me wrong, Ryff’s voice is as stimulating as a drug and as welcome as the daybreak, but the contrast deepens the album’s already complex tone. In another sharply poetic tune, ‘Walk Through The Fire’ still contains the same unbelievably translated emotion, but concerns death itself instead of just the death of love. Truly one of the best tracks on the record, finding it right at the end cements that Races are solidly brilliant, through and through.
The haunting title track closer ‘Year Of The Witch’ evokes the same sorrowful landscape that the opening song did, and also brings the listener a sense that ‘The Year Of The Child’ was lamenting the beginning of this strange, horrifying relationship that seems to have almost ruined Ryff’s very will to live. However, look at the unbelievably touching, glittering and lovely record that relationship eventually ended in. Who knows if he agrees, but I think he got the better end of the deal after all.
Have about $8? You NEED to buy this record, it is easily in my top five of 2012, you can buy it on Amazon or on vinyl at Insound. If you don’t have any money at all, just your wi-fi, you can stream ‘Walk Through The Fire’ below via Soundcloud.