Any anticipatory pleasure to be derived from the pain detailed on Annabel Dream Reader is numbed by its own flogging tedium.
As one of 15 bands recently selected by the British government’s Music Export Growth Scheme, Brighton trio the Wytches will split a share of £250,000 with bands such as Imogen Heap and the Heavy. The bands receive government funding to help launch their respective careers and export music outside of England. On their debut, Annabel Dream Reader, the Wytches look to American cultural touchstones Nirvana and Quentin Tarantino, attempting to harness the angst of the former through the neo-noir lens of the latter.
In British industry fashion, the Wytches released a number of singles and EPs, songs from which have been reworked for inclusion on Annabel Dream Reader, including opener “Digsaw” which sets the tone with its heavy surf guitar squalls. Highly exaggerated, Annabel Dream Reader borrows from the gothic theatrics of Lydia Lunch with singer/guitarist Kristian Bell offering up a loose conceit of post-midnight masochism, haunted by Annabel, a psychological invader. Tales of lust and heartbreak are put forth, smothered in murky reverb, creating a pact of sound backed by bassist Dan Rumsey and Gianni Honey’s throbbing drums. Utilizing the dynamic shifts of Nirvana by way of the Pixies on “Wide at Midnight” and “Burn Out the Bruise”, the Wytches do so not to elicit tension but to shock throughout the album’s gorish dreamscapes as on the sludgy “Robe for Juda” and go-go hustle of “Fragile Male for Sale” where Bell proclaims, “We’ll step over anyone / To get closer to our graves.”
Postulating the cause and effect of sexual relationships and the disconnected nature of human interaction through the subtext of S&M, a pubescent male, decrying he’s “Not too young” on “Digsaw”, is lured by a femme fatale (Annabel of the album’s title), resulting in the powerplay between dominant and submissive that wrangles its way from lust on “Fragile Male for Sale” to emasculation on “Wire Frame Mattress” where Bell bellows, “You sit there and laugh / While my dignity collapses", to finally ceding control on “Weights and Ties”.
While its despair is real, the seedy nocturnal eroticism and choking horror of Annabel Dream Reader feels contrived even down to its number of songs. The highlight of Annabel Dream Reader is the self-titled closer, “Track 13”, an acoustic exorcism that works as well if not better than its preceding 12 songs, even with obtuse lyrics like “She comes across / Like an animal lost / But her cage is the cleanest around." A welcome reprieve, the song comes far too late and offers no definitive closure to the album’s tangled concept.
A blatant doom trip, any anticipatory pleasure to be derived from the pain detailed on Annabel Dream Reader is numbed by its own flogging tedium. Left to ask ourselves, as does Bell himself on “Track 13”, if “Every day’s a bad dream / Or a story to sell”, the album fails to suspend disbelief. In the end, Annabel Dream Reader is mere pulp fiction.