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. Kristian Bell’s whinnying vocals, akin to Jack White’s, cement the blues rock-feel of “Burn Out The Bruise”, but the song is also subtly pointed with pitch bends, adding a decidedly retro flavour to the mix. “Beehive Queen” continues down the same track, not only with the subject matter but in its decidedly 60s vibe. The softly, darkly crooning ballad “Weights and Ties” is enough to make Alex Turner envious of their fusion of raw edge and smoke-filled nostalgia.
These injections of a surprising vintage timbre, with Dick Dale style guitar work, are possibly album’s most successful moments. It’s at these points when the album feels as if it could be an unintended soundtrack to an unwritten screenplay, filled with sharp-suited mobsters and female assassins. Tarantino-esque tendencies aside, this record is also laced with a hefty dose of melancholy, even rage. “Wire Frame Mattress” begins with a snaking, whining vocal and eerily sinister guitar. For a moment, you could swear you were listening to Billy Corgan.
ADR is not always this electrifying, however. Although at 45 minutes long it’s hardly a marathon, the adolescent angst can at times seem a little overbearing. On latest single “Gravedweller”, Bells repeatedly screams ‘they are coming after me!’ - Fair enough, it sounds like a pretty serious situation, maybe it is worth screaming about, but it would be a mistake to think that The Wytches needed to ramp up the urgency in their music. The song and its undead namesake is a bit of a B-movie gimmick that in no way reflects the stronger, more developed songwriting on the album. Perhaps they underestimate themselves because, in reality, The Wytches are not the kind of group that need to shout to be heard.
Annabel Dream Reader is a surprising mix of quasi-grunge and throw-back surf-rock which, while it can at times seem overly angst-ridden, is a relentless tide of energy and conviction. Although this debut LP might have its weaknesses, it might also be a sign of greater things to come.