L.A. Witch will need to consider straying from their formula.
With a desert rock sound that is positively arid and a penchant for grim lyricism that feels Tarantino-esque, L.A. Witch’s debut record is as self-assured and succinct as first albums come. At just nine tracks and only 32 minutes, it truly seems like a mirage for the sun-scorched, dust-caked traveler.
Though they’ve been buzzing since 2013, the band has taken their time to properly coalesce. In that time, they switched drummers (Ellie English replaced Crystal Nava) and honed their sound into something more cinematic, which boasts more eclectic genre influences beyond late ‘60s psych rock and bluesy guitar.
As one of the few uptempo cuts on L.A. Witch, “Drive Your Car” has a post-punk edge that feels like a conscious departure from the rest of the record but provides welcome depth. It’s some of singer-guitarist Sade Sanchez’s most compelling fretwork, and the reverb-soaked ending solo is both powerful and poignant. Elsewhere, “Baby in Blue Jeans” has a distinct country saunter and recalls some of the Rolling Stones’ more country tracks, if they were all painted black and drenched in reverb and distortion.
On tracks like “Untitled,” Sanchez’s voice is its own kind of fuzzy lead guitar. The elongated syllables work like thick half notes, but the lyrical content is practically indecipherable. When she does shoulder more weight as a frontwoman on a track like “Kill My Baby Tonight,” she excels, delivering lines like “I’m gonna kill my baby tonight/ If he don’t come home on time” with an air of ominous detachment that suggests both sarcasm and the fact that she could really do it without batting an eye. At the moment, L.A. Witch seems primarily focused on creating an atmosphere with their tracks, so it’s tough to assess whether Sanchez has the potential to be a more dynamic vocalist, though she pushes her way to the front of the mix on “Drive Your Car.”
The trio’s chemistry and connection is palpable, though L.A. Witch would have benefited from a bit more dynamic and instrumental variety. Subtle shifts in guitar tone reveal themselves upon repeated listens, and there’s a meaningful difference in the way that a song like “Brian” is constructed versus “Drive Your Car.” The tracks do blur together, which is likely a desired effect, but they’re also fairly sparse on narrative, so while the record is cohesive it can also reach a bit of a drone. The band lets their melodies develop and their chords hang in the air until they naturally dissipate, which is rare and welcome since many young bands opt for the safety net of a short, loud blast of sound. English’s drumming gives the tracks structure, and when she, Sanchez and bassist Irita Pai hit upon a mutually beneficial tone, like on the album closer “Get Lost,” they show a keen understanding of how to build texturally rich rock.
Because of its length and the well-developed sound that the band has honed over the past few years, none of the sins on their debut are egregious, but L.A. Witch will need to consider straying from their formula in order to reach their peak. Still, they’ve hit upon a sonic palette that is at once much-trodden by artists like Nick Cave and PJ Harvey and undeniably thrilling to hear mined once more by this talented trio.