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.A. antecedents from right before grunge, notably the Flesheaters and the Gun Club. The way Wire Frame Mattress swings from heavy heart to hang ten is especially impressive. But nothing stays too two-dimensional for long in the Wytches’ stirring brew.
Already after the furious opening of Digsaw, a kind of dancehall slow dance, Wide At Midnight, strolls in letting you know early on it won’t all be skull-cracking and screams. They do it again with Weights And Ties, another minimal, wavering, slow dance number, with Bell lyrically stroking the maggot-infested tresses of the zombie lass that left him alone at the morgue: “To your hungry eyes, to your bloated mind.”
Fragile Male For Sale captures Bell damn well. His yearning, quivering, fragile crooning—matched only by the gravelly sad-ladding of the Paint Fumes’ Elijah Von Cramon—is genuinely touching, despite much of the music being maniacally serrated and fork-in-socket fuzzy. But it soon droops down for measures of wandering quietude, then invariably back to that fuzz’n’smash. Summer Again has the humid, dramatic, Southern sweep of early Rock*a*Teens, whereas Robe For Juda borders on dirge metal.
They chose Liam Watson’s eight-track analog Toe Rag Studios to lay down Annabel Dream Reader. That’s the place that has housed sessions for Billy Childish, the White Stripes, the Kills and many more moody, cracked-blues bashers. So, good move. Some moments do slog about though, like the rote riff in Part Time Model. And by the closing, drowsy duo of dumped-on blues tunes, it appears that Bell is aiming for a kind of tapped-out, endless recession-era Scott Walker, singing to the abyss of melodramatic reflection on good times that probably weren’t.
Bell has said he intends each Wytches album to be quite different from the next, which automatically depletes the savage successes of this one. What’s the matter with sharpening your knives before tossing them for new ones? Indeed, there’s something deep in Bell’s yell that feels like an apology. (To wit, his emotive wail also exudes the kind of nightmare/wet dream conundrums of Kurt Cobain.) That and things like this tender live acoustic clip suggest this Wytch is still stirring up an identity—which makes the fully-formed sound of this debut even more impressive.