Opening track ‘Digsaw’ feels like it’s been here decades. In fact, it could have come from Seattle in the mid-80s. The grunge-esque riff is contrasted by a garage-tinged fuzzy guitar tone, as vocalist Kristian Bell cries “She took all of the light” in a face-melting chorus. The track isn’t identical to the version released as a 7″ single at the start of 2013; a tweaked rhythm section adds even more bitterness to the three minutes and twenty seconds of pure angst. ‘Wide at midnight’ is what you’d expect to play in the background if you were to see corpses staggering around a Brighton graveyard. With more emphasis on Bell’s haunting vocal tone, the track offers a moment to take a breath without losing the intensity that the record possesses.
‘Gravedweller’, although carried along by its pulsating bassline and drums that hold a great balance of attack, is pretty much the definition of unconventional. Just after the first chorus, the track comes to an almost complete stop. Bell is left painfully reciting the word “me” over fading guitar tones and spaced-out symbol smashes from former Crooked Canes bandmate Gianni Honey. That’s until bassist Daniel Rumsey picks up the pace once more and Bell’s guitar tails off into an outro that both leaves you in awe and wishing the track was a little longer. The next track, the brilliantly titled ‘Fragile Male For Sale’, is another haunting tale of destructive desires, and features the first name drop of the infamous Annabel. ‘Burn Out The Bruise’ and ‘Wire Frame Mattress’ follow, with the latter being the band’s most recent single. It’s another slower, doomy track that transitions into a fierce recital of fear and heartbreak; this is probably The Wytches at their loudest too.
Perhaps the first track to have a completely different feel to it on the record is ‘Weights and Ties’. Both slower and calmer, the track sees Kristian at his most melodic, almost reminiscent of a mid-60’s song with darker tones from the guitar work. The lead riff in the song really does have a swing feel to it, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s a track that could change anybody’s mind who wasn’t so keen on the first half of the album. Just how The Wytches manage to incorporate so many different dynamics on this record and keep it moving along naturally is truly fascinating. “I must admit I felt a little sick/Well I think I swallowed too much pride”, recalls a relatively contained Bell over a hugely bass-driven track in ‘Part Time Model’. The memorable ghostly guitar echo that The Wytches are so keen on is present just prior to a simplistic chorus, which compliments the twisted lyricism (part of what makes The the band so unique). On that note, the following track is my definite pick of the record. ‘Summer Again’ sees a much more gentle approach to the guitar work, and we see Bell at his fragilest. A melancholic composition is matched with the softest vocal on the record, until the pain of the song becomes evident just after the crooning of “You showed me what the truth is/I still don’t understand”. There’s no holding back, as a desire to “Fall asleep fast in a bed of broken glass” and the softer approach comes back in again, though is just as quickly replaced by haunting guitar tones not too dissimilar to those heard in ‘Digsaw’. Yet due to the entirely different context, this seems more of an expansion on what was heard before rather than a cop-out. Naturally, the slower guitar work nurses the song to its finish and leaves you completely bewildered as to how anybody can portray emotions through a vocal so effectively. ‘Summer Again’ genuinely is one of the most authentic songs I have ever heard.
‘Robe For Juda’ (Juda being the other infamous character mentioned throughout the album) is another ghostly, distressed track that hasn’t lost any of its appeal since being released as a single on Hate Hate Hate (before The Wytches even had the Heavenly deal that allowed them to release Annabel Dream Reader). The band are currently ending their set with ‘Crying Clown’, another masterful Annabel tale that celebrates the more melodic side of the band. Perhaps second only to ‘Summer Again’ in terms of brilliantly twisted lyricism, Bell cries that the “Graveyard girl” is “Perfectly lonely”, before a somewhat calm in comparison to the live version shout of “Like a pendulum” is heard and another gritty outro is played. The typically mysteriously titled last track, ‘Tracy 13’, is an acoustic song, of which the feel of may be familiar to many Wytches fans from the Amazing Radio session Kristian did a while back. Once again Annabel is the subject matter of the song, as Kristian pleads “Stop reading me Annabel” before the guitar fades out and in the background we hear footsteps as presumably the band leave the room.
In short, Annabel Dream Reader is utterly, utterly fascinating. The haunting tales that Kristian Bell recalls are good enough to be put over standard generic indie songs and keep their appeal, yet they’re furthered by an evidently brilliant understanding between the band, which allows for dramatic break downs in songs after which melodies continue unaffected. Gianni Honey and Daniel Rumsey are an excellent rhythm section and allow the songs to keep ticking over even at the height of their unconventional, twisted nature.