Call it a happy accident, or beginner’s luck, but it’s been one hell of a year for RACES. Back in 2011, the band was hurriedly thrown together so that now-frontman Wade Ryff could play an impromptu gig. Nearly two years later, that lineup is still almost fully intact. Since coalescing the bandmates — including Ryff, vocalist Devon Lee, pianist Breanna Wood, bassist Oliver Hild, and drummer Lucas Ventura — and solidifying a name, RACES have signed with Frenchkiss Records, toured the nation, and released an impressive debut album dubbed The Year of the Witch. As the title indicates, much of the album stems from a relationship gone afoul, but as Ryff is quick to point out, it’s not your average breakup record.

“A lot of these songs aren’t just about a lover. They are about friends, family members, bandmates,” he explained. “I think forgiveness and acceptance and the hope associated with those emotions is a constant theme in the record. It’s just hidden in these songs that at first glance seem to be quite the opposite. Songs like ‘Walk through the Fire’ and ‘Big Broom’ are good examples of that.”

Indeed, Year of the Witch is not always what it seems. Introspective ruminations on life and our place in it get wrapped in sweet harmonies and Arcade Fire–style anthems on “Song of Birds.” Later, plinking pianos and waltz-y melodies encircle a bittersweet tale about blame on “The Knife.” In short, it’s a record about life in all its muddy, messed-up glory, and for Ryff that’s a wellspring that’s not running dry anytime soon.

“I’m starting to notice that the muse presents itself the most when I’m not paying attention. I heard this Tom Waits quote where he says, ‘Songwriting is like fishing. You got to be really quiet to catch the big ones,’ and that’s proving to be very true for me.”

RACES plays Velvet Jones (423 State St.) on Wednesday, January 23, with El Ten Eleven and Cayucas at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call (805) 965-8676 or visit newnoisesb.org.


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