Sterling Witt’s ambitions aren’t modest. Listeners are fortunate, however, that Witt backs up those ambitions with the skills to bring them off in convincing and memorable fashion. The fifth full length album from Witt fields a three piece band who recorded Satyagraha’s thirteen songs live and comes barreling out of the speakers much of the time. Witt’s talents as a vocalist, guitarist, and songwriting are extraordinarily well balanced with each other and he’s aligned himself with two outstanding musicians in Davy Langerak on bass and Jesse Gilpin on drums. There isn’t a single song among the thirteen that doesn’t sound wildly inspired and throbbing with passion, but this isn’t merely a howl of attitude in the wasteland of modern rock and punk music. There’s a great deal of alternative textures and unpretentious sophistication on Satyagraha that will surprise and delight many along with its indisputable skill for rocking out.
The album kicks off in resounding fashion with “Perception Deception”. Listeners unfamiliar with Witt will be immediately impressed by his muscular combination of propulsive power trio playing, melody, and intelligent lyrical content. His voice is an ideal vehicle for the music here and later on. It sounds skeptical, hard-bitten, amused, and enraged. It isn’t readily apparent that Witt’s voice can carry this sort of spirited attack, but he does it with all of the aforementioned emotions, more, and considerable panache. “Who Do You Listen To?” has some politically and philosophically charged zeal behind its lyrical content but Witt’s instincts correctly guide him towards packing the album’s weightiest material within a compelling musical structure. There’s a bright step in the tightly wound guitar riff that powers much of “Spiritual Revolution” and the melody line retains its coherence even when the tempo picks up. Everything is professionally handled, but each song on Satyagraha has a woozy confidence. The speakers in his lyrics sounded battered, but unbowed and wiser for the experience.
There’s a sort of leering loquaciousness about “Let Love Out” that seems particularly striking when compared to its lyrical message. Witt leans into every word, elongates syllables, and turns the phrases in unexpected ways. His guitar work is always based around melody; there’s no flashy dross dragging down its quality. “Just So You Know” is one half sleek, streamlined rocker and one half rambunctious blues rock with a tight swing. Witt’s voice shifts just as seamlessly from throat-scarring power into his own slurry vocal romp. “Where in the World” has a bloodshot-eyed primal quality with primitive percussion patterns and staccato guitar lines that simmer throughout much of the song and culminate at key points. A late gem comes with the ridiculously catchy “I Love You More Everyday”, but it’s never a shallow experience. Witt is another of the thin ranks of performers capable of marrying power pop principles, rock power, and punk attitude in a credible package. There’s an understated bittersweet quality to the penultimate track “Just War” and, volume and distortion aside, this really sounds much more like a highly amplified folk tune. The social and cultural consciousness behind Witt’s songs is fully developed, but he balances the message with entertaining musical firepower that invests the track list with a lot of staying power. Satyagraha doesn’t remake the wheel, but it isn’t difficult to assert that most listeners haven’t heard anything this year quite like Sterling Witt’s latest release.