After its formation in 2011 and a few singles, The Wytches has finally released its debut album, Annabel Dream Reader.
The Brighton-based band, consisting of songwriter/frontman/guitarist Kristian Bell, drummer Gianni Honey and bassist Daniel Rumsey, leans more on the heavier side of psychedelic rock on this full-length. It has taken a lo-fi approach, with the album recorded onto a 8-track tape machine, an antique device by today’s recording standards.
Opener Digsaw (released in late 2012) epitomises what the band calls ‘surf doom’. Its intro of menacing feedback and anticipatory cymbals dissolves into a murky labyrinth of guitar riffs that are a darker twist of ‘surf’ rock, backed by the steady, machine-like beat of a Phil Spector production like Be My Baby. Bell’s vocals are hoarse and almost indecipherable. He yelps and screeches, as the track shifts towards primal garage rock.
The moody Wide At Midnight features more of those juicy, crunchy guitar riffs. Bell again teeters on the edge of sanity, shifting between soft, morbid reflections and maniacal, animalistic screams of ‘eugggh’. Death haunts on Gravedweller, as Bell reveals himself to be a nervous wreck before Rumsey’s bass riff evokes an even more horrifying variation of the theme from ‘The Twilight Zone’.
FragileMale initially struts like Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, but Bell’s shrieks are burdensome. The same complaint applies on Wire Frame Mattress, though it features nicely plucked, extended guitar passages over constantly changing rhythms. The slow dance of Weights and Ties ends up being listless despite its gliding riffs.
There is plenty of quality to be found on the album. It is easy to see why Beehive Queen was the debut single. It carries the swag of The White Stripes’ Seven Nations Army, the sinister surf rock riffs of the B-52’s Rock Lobster and even the pulse of Love is in the Air. Yet, an unexpected slow down almost kills all the momentum. Meanwhile, Burn Out The Bruise is groovy, catchy garage rock thanks to its infectious rhythm.
The first, softer first two-thirds of Summer Again features hopeful, glistening and sunny riffs, before the band unleashes a howling torrent of rage towards the end. Crying Clown is an especially heavy highlight. The riffs are as devastating and gritty as those of Black Sabbath, making this an obvious debut single for the band in the US.
Track 13 is a mournful waltz of romance and loss. Bell’s passionate pleas, occasionally broken by Honey’s percussion, sound cathartic. They are delivered with bravado, even as Bell’s voice wavered.
The Wytches’ first album is a lo-fi, yet a well-produced effort overall. Its biggest strength is in Bell’s evocative guitar performances. Nevertheless, the album is not the easiest album to sit through, as Bell’s shrieking self-exorcisms may prove a bit much for listeners.