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, not happily. There is nothing about Annabel Dream Reader that suggests either satisfaction or contentment. It’s a dark, gloomy record, hoiking itself about the place in a foul mood, screaming bloody murder at the drop of a hat.
Which is all sorts of fun. Not least due to the oily analogue fug that envelopes the album, as hard to shift as the scent of patchouli from a poncho. Some of the credit for that should probably go to Liam Watson’s resolutely low-tech ToeRag Studios, where the album was recorded, and Bill Ryder Jones, formally of The Coral, who co-produced.
Digsaw is both a great opener and a sturdy example of the sludgy thrash with which Annabel Dream Reader specialises. Dick Dale-esque guitars resonate with reverb, serving as the perfect accompaniment for singer Kristian Bell to howl over. He shreds his larynx further over the force-ten gale of noise that make up vast swathes of Wide At Midnight, while the buzzsaw riffs of Gravedweller neatly plot a course between coruscating and melodic before collapsing in the sort of writhing end unseen since Mothra last saw off that bastard Godzilla.
The most obvious comparison is The Horrors, or more precisely, The Horrors’ debut album. Except where Strange House couched its shock with more than a hint of schlock, Annabel Dream Reader is played straighter. And darker. There aren’t Victorian villains hiding in shadows, cackling manically here. There’s are more obvious and more relatable bogeymen – broken hearts, rejection, obsession.
After a while though, you do wonder if they couldn’t do with just a little more variation on their theme. It is telling that when they sit down with the acoustic (as they do on the prosaically, if appropriately titled Track 13), it’s far from unappealing. It’s the one major criticism of Annabel Dream Reader. There are a few demonstrations that The Wytches do have dimensions beyond manic, desperate flailing – Weights And Measures in particular, despite displaying an uncanny resemblance to Snow by JJ72 – but not quite enough to prevent the album occasionally dipping.
Still when they pull it all together, The Wytches are quite the proposition. Wire Frame Mattress is probably the best thing here, drummer Gianni Honey and bassist Daniel Rumsey create a magnificently grungy smear of grinding fuzz, before Bell’s squalling guitar adds just the right amount of 1950s style terror to proceedings. And there are sufficient quantities of those sort of moments to make this a very fine debut.