The first album from Wigan band Witness (also known as Witness UK, in the United States.) It was released on Island Records in 1999.
The music has a delicate, frosted sound, formed from piano and meticulously controlled feedback. Gerard Starkie, vocals, has a trembling and intimate voice, matched with his chorusless, melancholy lyrics. He has said in interviews that he feels the words of the songs are only appropriate within the music; hence no lyrics sheet is included. This unwillingness to be pinned down extends to interviews, where the band as a whole seems reluctant to discuss the meanings behind their songs.
They create an atmosphere of softly executed elegance. There is a real sense of late-night introspection and snapshots of emotions truly appropriate to the title. Much of the sparse sound can be attributed to Starkie writing most of the songs with Ray Chan, guitars, before Witness had recruited a bassist or drummer. This can mean they occasionally slide too far into minimalism, but on the whole enhances the vulnerable edge to their music.
The inlay booklet shows what could be imagined as a house in the aftermath of an argument - broken pottery next to overturned furniture. Empty staircases are shot next to sombre faces. Again, it seems to fit agreeably with the themes in the songs.
Two singles were released in the UK - Scars and Hijacker. Starkie has said that Witness are not a singles band - "I don't think any of our songs work particularly well as singles" - and this seems reflected in on the CD, where the two songs seem to make a lot more sense as part of the whole album.
Before the Calm earned Witness comparisons with Starsailor and the Verve. Their melodic rock structure may justify comparisons with the former, but the latter was mainly used by lazy journalists who picked up on the hometown friendship between Starkey, Chan and Nick McCabe. More apposite resemblances may be with Tindersticks or Elbow.
Critical response was positive, with the notoriously picky NME giving Before the Calm 9/10. From this, a guest spot on Later ... with Jools Holland resulted, introducing songs from Before the Calm to a wider audience (including your reviewer). Sandwiched between Suede and Garbage, Starkey recalls thinking, "How did we get up here?" The quality and sentiment of this album may have had something to do with it.
- Second Life
- Freezing Over Morning
- My Own Old Song
- So Far Gone
- Cause and Effect
- My Friend Will See Me Through