12 Aug 2014

The Wytches / Annabel Dream Reader (album review)

Bleach soaked, mud doused, and coming just as they are, The Wytches have already established themselves as one of the premium up and coming bands in the country with their unique blend of surf rock and dirty grunge. Annabel Dream Reader is their debut record, and it's eagerly awaited, for an album that everybody has heard almost every song off of - Digsaw, Robe For Juda, Crying Clown & Beehive Queen, Wire Frame Mattress and Gravedweller have all been billed as A Side singles, and even a few of the b-sides have made their way onto Annabel.

But for a record you think you know what to expect, The Wytches' packs one hell of a punch! Even Track 1 Side 1, the song Digsaw arrives unexpectedly - as an alternative version, with a fuzzy fade in and an extra bit of rhythm section madness! Being a perfect single gets it off to a perfect start anyway, but in LP opening mode it's upgraded to the max, like a Love Buzz-tinged Golf GTI Digsaw with all the optional extras. It still retains it's garage-inspired rhythm and its riffing that sounds like its pinched from Seattle in the late 80's, but it just sounds more than it does as a single. Wide At Midnight is the first of a handful of down-laden slow 'uns. It showcases Kristian Bell's rasping voice and some very gravelly tones, and sounds dark and smokey - although I'm not so sure it's the right song to follow up the thrash ode to deceit and deception that opens up the record.

Gravedweller is a rarity - a song that could actually benefit from being a bit longer. Short but definitely sweet, it was the first thing they put out as one of the artists on the Heavenly recs roster, and it's pulsating bassline and maudlin lyrics are the perfect blend, and just summarise what Annabel Dream Reader is. The next track, Fragile Male For Sale doesn't quite live up to it's song title - much like most things Morrissey has ever done, but it breezes through inconspicuously onto yet another single - Burn Out The Bruise. Burn Out The Bruise sees frontman Bell giving it the '73 Iggy, with screamed vocals but yelled as fast as they can, but it also showcases his lyrical talent, as every single word tessellates beautifully! But guess what? it gives way for another single - Wire Frame Mattress. Annabel Dream Reader is more ridden with singles than the comments section on one of those gaming YouTube videos that my 14 year old brother seems to be obsessed with. But of course, with so many great, stand out songs, it's no surprise that The Wytches have been able to squeeze out so many singles from Annabel, is it?
Wire Frame Mattress is as bleak and doomy as the record gets. Venomously sporting a riff that reminds me of Dick Dale's Miserlou, Bell's vox are delivered in the most acid-wash way that they possibly can be... It's probably the band at their loudest too, which is no mean feat at all. The Wytches are, after all incredibly loud intrinsically. Creepy and sadistic, Wire Frame Mattress is one of the songs that showcases the metal roots of the band.

The hightlight of the album, and again - which is in itself no mean feat, is the swingy ballad that is Weights and Ties. By swingy, I don't mean swingy. I just mean it's a change in tempo and a very welcome one - but still, it's almost waltzy. It's quite a beautiful number, and one of the opposite of Wire Frame Mattress - its one of the more surf-rock inspired songs on Annabel. Its softer, more delicate, and on top of that it's definitely one of the few songs that isn't a single, that could be released as a, ummm, 7th single from the album. Followed quickly by another previously unheard one - Part Time Model - is, however quite the opposite. It's one of the albums few weaker tracks. Non-descript and dull, it just washes over you inconspicuously, like one of The Beatles' solo albums.

But. of course, following on from that is the one song that challenges Weights and Ties to the honour of best song on Annabel Dream Reader and maybe, just maybe, song of the year; Summer Again. Although it did come out on a Kitsuné Maison compilation last year. Whilst the title hints at joy, the song is just the opposite - sprawling, mourningfully, Bell's vocals sound like the last breaths of a dying man with a message; rasping with every second sounding like it might be his last. Sprawling on and on, incredibly passionately, Summer Again is the one of the album's many masterpieces.

Like Bobby Zimmerman and Davie Jones before them, The Wytches make their songs more real, by singing about characters as if they were real people. Whilst Weights and Ties gives mention of a mysterious Juda character, she takes full form in track number 11 - Robe For Juda. Tubthumping and blood-curdling, it's a late highlight for Annabel Dream Reader, which, in all honesty is at its best towards the end.

Yet another single is the penultimate song, Crying Clown. It's again rasping, and although it's probably better done acoustically, it's still one of the catchier numbers, with it's catchy 'graveyard girl swings around like a pendulum' hook.

Throughout, however, Annabel Dream Reader's unique character, and it's grunge mastery means that you just don't want it to end. But alas, like WU LYF's career, all the greatest things must come to an end, and Annabel Dream Reader is no different. But, oh, how it ends, stooped in mysticism and the same Wytches character that is beseeched upon the 3-piece throughout. The thirteenth, and final track - the mysteriously titled Track 13 is an acoustic number and it brings the record to a close with a "stop reading my dreams, Annabel". The coffin door is slammed shut, and you're left wondering just wow! What an album Annabel Dream Reader is, and quite evidently, The Wytches have struck gold first time. It's everything you've expected and then some! It's one of the few albums I've listened to all the way through, and decided 'hey, I'm gonna give this another spin'. It might not be as great as fellow post-punk upstarts Eagulls' effort, but this stunning album has nestled itself into my top 3 albums of 2014, and it's quite unlikely to be felled by any comers.

Annabel Dream Reader - the details
Released: It's out on the 25th of this month!
Who by: Heavenly Recs, the same people that put out stuff by the likes of Temples, TOY and Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs
Essential Tracks: Weights and Ties, Digsaw, Summer Again, Gravedweller - Gravedweller is available to download for free from The Wytches website
Who produced it? Frontman Kristian Bell and (the guy that was in The Coral) Bill Ryder Jones
For fans of: Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Melvins, Telescopes, Horrors, The Jesus and Mary Chain

RATING: 18/20

(written by calum cashin)