Release Date: Aug 25, 2014
Record label: Heavenly
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Garage Punk, Lo-Fi
Brighton, U.K., isn’t exactly known for its gnashed teeth, but you wouldn’t be able to deduce that from the seething aural assault coming out of buzz-grunge wunderkinds The Wytches. The young trio’s steady touring and festival performances have generated a big build-up to their Partisan Records debut, Annabel Dream Reader, and behind explosive live performances borrowing from both Nuggets-era surf-garage and early ‘90s grunge, it indeed appears to be the Season of the Wytch. Anyone weaned on the fizzy punk abandon of Bleach-era Nirvana—that holy union of feedback-dappled punk on metal—will identify almost rapturously with The Wytches’ studied homage.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. The first time I heard anything by The Wytches was last spring, when the trio released the video for 'Digsaw' and announced the single 'Beehive Queen/Crying Clown'; having listened to those three tracks again and again (and loved every second of them), I quickly realised why they sounded so familiar: they reminded me of my favourite Nirvana album (if it can actually be considered as a proper album), Incesticide, with the darkness and despair of Kristen Bell's voice serving as the perfect match to the exotic arabic solos that paint every track purple and black, and where every single layer of sound is absolutely necessary. The Wytches' music is, in some ways, the Beach Boys' evil twin: slightly surf-oriented, it consists of tales that don't always end as expected, and that inevitably transport us to a universe where the surfer often doesn't make his way back home.
Kristian Bell, The Wytches’ singer, songwriter and guitarist, has said that the Brighton trio’s debut is a break-up album. By the sounds of it, it’s a breakdown album too. Produced by Bell with ex-Coral member Bill Ryder-Jones, ‘Annabel Dream Reader’ is a blizzard of darkness that takes cues from experts in the field. Nirvana’s ‘Bleach’ is everywhere: in Bell’s screaming of the word “she” on opener ‘Digsaw’, in Dan Rumsey’s loose Krist Novoselic bass on ‘Gravedweller’.
The debut from Brighton's the Wytches merges recent goth and surf rock with '90s post-punk revivalism. The result is a neo-noir form of grunge-y garage rock. The band name is fitting – Wytches create a mystical, seedy, dimly lit landscape dotted with gypsies, grave-dwellers and girls shaking bibles like pendulums.
Is there a more perfect debut album than ‘Annabel Dream Reader’ in 2014? It’ll be a hard-fought battle: the Brighton trio’s brand of scuzzed-up, scream-filled face-melting rock is a ball of contradictions in the best possible way. They master both loud and quiet – often within miliseconds of each other, Kristian Bell’s vocal shifting between fragile, shrill and full-on blast with terrifying ease. “Every day’s a bad dream”, muses Bell during closer ‘Track 13’, and while at the end of the record, this lyric does a pretty good job of summarising the whole lot.
Gothic surf does sound like a bit of an anachronism. All that sunshine? All that fresh sea air? Doesn’t seem vastly in keeping with the rest of the look. Never mind what a particularly gnarly wipe-out would do to that artfully applied kohl. Nevertheless, it is there that The Wytches sit. Although ….
The approach to music that The Wytches have been cultivating over the past three years is a testament, in many ways, to the current rock climate; they play like a punk band, all raw, visceral energy, they sound like a surf rock band - it’s that unmistakeable guitar that runs through much of this debut album - and they write like a psych outfit; all weird digressions and off-kilter transitions. It’s as if you have to set yourselves up like that these days - working in ways often contradictory to one another - especially if there’s nothing particularly striking, in originality terms, about the sounds you’re playing with. This Brighton trio deserve some credit then for having the intelligence to realise this.
As one of 15 bands recently selected by the British government’s Music Export Growth Scheme, Brighton trio the Wytches will split a share of £250,000 with bands such as Imogen Heap and the Heavy. The bands receive government funding to help launch their respective careers and export music outside of England. On their debut, Annabel Dream Reader, the Wytches look to American cultural touchstones Nirvana and Quentin Tarantino, attempting to harness the angst of the former through the neo-noir lens of the latter.
Along with Temples, Toy and Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs, the Wytches have formed a rowdy(ish) new psych nucleus at the formerly indie-heavy Heavenly Records. Long hair, stern faces and disturbing songs about mysticism and ghouls have usurped Jimi Goodwin's bowl cut and Beth Orton's comforting balladry at the label's vanguard. On their debut, the trio of Kristian Bell (singer-guitarist), Gianni Honey (drummer) and Dan Rumsey (bass) seem determined to take Heavenly into ever darker waters.
The Wytches are not to be confused with the Witches, the Detroit band led by Troy Gregory with a similar name, sound, and outlook who cut their first album 15 years before the U.K. Wytches were formed. Given the Detroit band's limited profile, it's hardly likely the Brighton-based outfit lifted anything on purpose, but their spooky drift through '60s-influenced pop and rock sounds does make for an eye-opening coincidence.
“For the moon never beams/ Without bringing me dreams,” goes one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous works, the poem “Annabel Lee”. It’s one of the blueprints for what would eventually (and often reductively) become the post-punk aesthetic of goth, and Brighton-based trio the Wytches have gulped down that influence greedily on their debut album, Annabel Dream Reader. The record is swamped in menace, murk, and star-crossed heartbreak.
Considering their Halloween-adjacent name and the fact that The Wytches’ brand of post-punk takes a shred of influence from Dick Dale’s surf rock pioneering, picturing a warts-and-all witch hanging ten wouldn’t be unreasonable. But, luckily, the English three-piece aren’t that campy. Instead, their debut, Annabel Dream Reader, at times finds The Wytches all too ready to shimmy dourly in a downturned pallor, the angst and tortured feelings cranked as high as the distortion.
This Brighton, England band is green in a number of ways: they’re très young; their songs are as discolored as a dashboard-warped Cramps cassette; and singer Kristian Bell sounds queasy and vulnerable till he screams out suddenly as if puking up his hazmat for you to root through. At first pass, Wytches recall the first months of those British neo-goths, the Horrors, but this trio comes stumbling down a dirtier street not peppered with designer dungaree shops. The best tracks, like Burn Out The Bruise and Wire Frame Mattress, possess the lyrical degradation and sludgy rhythms of the early grunge ethos, if being tossed around with the surfing-a-graveyard sounds of L.
The Wytches look like any young-ish guys you might see down your local. If you were to spot them from the bar, you might think, ‘Yeah, they’re in a band, but so are a lot of people’. Then you would hear them play and suddenly realise that they’ve a lot more about them than you initially anticipated. The brilliant and unnerving power of Annabel Dream Reader (ADR) is that it somehow has the ability to collapse time and space by smushing musical styles from completely different eras together and asking that ever-present question: will it blend? ? ?And it does.