Witching Waves is a London-based three-piece with clear ties to post-punk, the guitar textures of Sonic Youth and the rawer side of the ‘90s indie rock spectrum, a blend nicely enhanced by trio leanness and a tendency to bear down and get raucous. Crystal Cafeis their second LP, and while it’s erroneous to portray its eleven tracks as breaking fresh ground, when they click the result is likely to please ears favorable to the recipe. It’s out now on vinyl and compact disc via Soft Power Records in the UK and the Happy Happy Birthday To Me label in the USA.
Comprised of drummer-vocalist Emma Wigham, guitarist-vocalist Mark Jasper, and bassist Ed Shellard, Witching Waves has been on the scene for a few years now, debuting in late 2013 with a self-titled tape on Suplex Cassettes. Its four songs brandish judiciously applied mixed-gender harmonies, a considerable level of guitar abrasion, and knowledge of such post-punk cornerstones as Wire. The above detailed structural and tonal cops from the catalog of Sonic Youth are certainly extant, but they don’t dominate the proceedings.
Their “Concrete” b/w “Chain of Command” cassette single, issued by Soft Power in 2014, retained the rawness and slightly diminished the SY similarities as the din’s overall gist suggested a particularly post-punkish route through the indie landscape of the early ‘90s. The two-song “Outline” mini-CD emerged the same year, its title cut playing with pop melody a tad more overtly.
The group’s first full-length and vinyl debut Fear of Falling Down was released late in ’14, expanding upon their template and smoothing out the rough edges only a smidge. At just over half an hour, it’s a quick spurt, but it displayed improved songwriting amongst increased range, “Counterpoint” deepening their attention to catchiness as the post-punk qualities reclined in the back seat, at least momentarily.
Some might be thinking 32 minutes borders on the sparse, but the succinctness is actually quite appropriate for this sorta thing; underneath the racket and spurts of angularity is tuneful rocking making a stronger impression through brevity and wrapping up with the standout from their first tape. Possessing an equally brief running-time, their latest boasts finer songs and sharper delivery as Witching Waves improve on the strides of Fear of Falling Down.
Crystal Cafe’s opener “Twister” exudes heightened confidence, navigating its dynamic shifts more deftly and simply flowing better than their previous work. While the intermittent needling guitar lines and emphasis on the tom drum reinforce the punk in the equation, there’s a growing comfort with pop-rock that’s well accentuated by Wigham’s voice.
Witching Waves haven’t put the kibosh on their Sonic Youth influence however, with a brief passage reminiscent of the band arising to lend “Twister” balance. It ably segues into the potent riff and rant (with infusions of harmony) of “Seeing Double,” trace elements of SY lingering to augment a more than vaguely Pixie-like whole.
As on its predecessor, Jasper recorded and mixed Crystal Cafe in his Sound Savers studio, acquitting himself well in the role with a few shrewd touches; I’m especially fond of the cymbal reverberations in “Seeing Double”’s instrumental portion, with obvious credit due to Wigham behind the kit. And this extends to all three participants, Witching Waves’ trio status leaving little room for slacking or clams.
The gruff thump of “Pitiless” keeps all the components in check as the brief cyclical instrumental piece “Red Light Loop” adds welcome breadth to the canvas. It leads directly into “Make It Up,” which situates itself as a Sonic Youth/Breeders hybrid, with guitar timbre recalling Goo and vocal sass landing in the ballpark of Last Splash.
Odd considering the combination, but it features Crystal Cafe’s lightest moments as it subtly points to a possible decrease in feedback/distortion in the group’s thrust moving forward, though these attributes remain indispensible to the dark-hued instrumental “Anemone.” If again triggering visions of SY, it reaches back to the days the NYC act hovered around the fringes of the Industrial scene.
Although “Anemone” underscores Witching Waves as being substantially more than a mere ’90’s rehash, the pop-clamor of “The Threat” unequivocally derives from the decade; in their favor, it doesn’t borrow too heavily from any one source. But the least immediately taggable track on the album is “Red Light,” a sturdy hunk of machine-like pop motion with a noisy finale, the proposition foreshadowed by “Red Light Loop.”
If “Red Light” is the most resistant to explicit influence, “Receiver” presents a hefty throttle of amp scuzz, battered skins, bass thunder, and a committed outpouring from Jasper at the microphone; the dots might not be hard to connect, but they stand up well to scrutiny, as does the web of guitar ambiance shaping up the instrumental “Inoa.” Finale “Flowers” merges pop aptitude with their ability as a cohesive unit and also provides space for individual aspects throughout, specifically Wigham’s vocal parts and Shellard’s bass.
Bluntly, listeners with a disinterest in the genres and bands cited as essential to Witching Waves’ sound probably aren’t in a position to be thrilled by this record’s contents, though something tells me those folks quit reading this missive long before this sentence arrived. Of course, finishing this review is no guarantee of appreciation for this LP’s wares either, but the possibility is significantly greater. Crystal Cafe realizes much of the group’s initial potential and sees them poised for further growth.
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