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. The first single, “Wire Frame Mattress,” features the squeaky screams of vocalist/guitarist Kristian Bell, whose penchant for slap-echo effects and liberal dependency on his whammy bar conjures elements of “Miserlou”-like adventure one minute, and punishing Sabbathesque riff breakdowns the next. It’s a bewitching contrast that’s again showcased in more manic regard on the fantastic half-instrumental/half-Pixies tribute “Beehive Queen.” It’s The Wytches’ ability to somewhat seamlessly marry all these influences that makes them more than a little bit of a nostalgia trip for anyone over 30, but also like some shiny new revolution for those who missed the Clinton years.
Annabel Dream Reader opens with “Digsaw,” a track accented by bassist Daniel Rumsey and drummer Gianni Honey holding down a sludgy rhythm for Bell’s scratchy vocals during the verse, laying the perfect fulcrum for an all-out angst-fest on the wide-open, screamed pre-chorus, with Bell bellowing, “Stop your talking/We are the same twin/All I hear are mothers crying” in some twisted fairytale only he knows the plot to. The effect isn’t exactly the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic famously meditated upon by Black Francis; in fact, more often there is a slow-boil toward the emotional outbursts that makes songs like “Wide at Midnight” all the more enchanting. There are inherent melodies—deep and dark though they may be hidden—that speak to Bell’s strength as a songwriter.
All that aside, the last minute-and-a-half of “Wide at Midnight” is the most purely aggressive, cathartic moment on the album (maybe the most melodically ferocious thing put to record this year), replete with Bell’s intense howls and a backdrop of crunchy, heavy riffs. “Gravedweller” is an equally bold effort, owing more than a passing nod to Cobain’s “Love Buzz.”
Play this album at full volume, with plenty of dance/thrash room, and little to no glassware nearby.