Say Psych: Album Review: L.A. Witch – Play With Fire

Californian trio L.A. Witch are back with a new album, Play With Fire, which is released tomorrow on Suicide Squeeze Records. Their self-titled debut album unfurled like hazy memories of late night revelries in the city centre creeping back in on a hungover Sunday morning. Guitarist/vocalist Sade Sanchez purred and crooned over jangling guitar chords, painting pictures of urban exploits, old American haunts, and private escapades with a master’s austerity. Bassist Irita Pai and drummer Ellie English polished the patina of the band’s vintage sound, adding a full-bodied thump and intoxicating swing to the album’s dusty ballads, ominous invitations, and sultry rock songs. The album had an air of effortlessness, like these songs were written into the fabric of the Western landscape by some past generation and conjured into our modern world by three powerful conduits. The band readily admits that L.A. Witch was a casual affair and that the songs came together over the course of several years. That natural flow hit a snag when the band’s popularity grew and they began touring regularly, so a new strategy became necessary for their sophomore album, the swaggering and beguiling Play With Fire.

Between their touring schedule, studio availability, and the timeline for releasing records, L.A. Witch found themselves with only two months to do the bulk of writing for Play With Fire. They holed up for January and February, essentially self-quarantining for the writing process before March’s mandatory COVID shutdown. “As far the creative process goes, this record is a result of sheer willingness to write,” says Sanchez. “When you sit down and make things happen, they will happen, rather than waiting to be inspired.” The time constraints and focused writing sessions ultimately forced the band into new territories. “I’ve definitely learned that having restrictions forces you to think outside the box,” says Pai. “That structure really brings about creativity in an unexpected and abundant way.”

Opening with ‘Fire Starter’ they are bold, brash and in your face; the track is a call to action, an anthem against apathy. Sanchez states “don’t fear mistakes or the future. Take a chance. Say and do what you really feel, even if nobody agrees with your ideas. These are feelings that have stopped me in the past. I want to inspire others to be freethinkers even if it causes a little burn.” Make no mistake, this is rock and roll at its finest with a pounding beat leading the guitar and hazy vocals in a heady mix. ‘Motorcycle Boy’ is a feisty love song, inspired by classic cinema outlaws like Mickey Rourke, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen. It is a more melodic track, allowing hints of their tender side. ‘Dark Horse’ unfurls a mixture of dustbowl folk, psychedelic breakdowns, and fire-and-brimstone organ lines; it will appeal to existing fans and its intricacies will attract a whole new set. Lead single ‘I Wanna Lose’ packs the exact kind of punch we are used to from these girls with a message that talks of the celebration of defeat as a starting point for rebirth and redemption.

‘Gen-Z’ considers the rising suicide rate in a generation obsessed with social media by way of air-raid siren guitar leads and hazy vocals, underpinned by an in intense drum beat that leads from the rear. ‘Sexorexia’ offers a fierce garage rock energy that is akin to nothing else they have offered and stands out accordingly. ‘Maybe the Weather’ is essentially a minor-key country track that offers tremolo keys, slide guitar and weighty production that makes it the most unique offering on the album. ‘True Believers’ stands in the gap between punk and garage rock, capturing the raw, intense energy of both in a two-minute package. Concluding ‘Starred’ is built on a grimy, fuzzed out bass line and is pure Sonic Youth in ethos; a fine way to conclude an album.

Over the course of Play With Fire, it feels like we’ve traversed the history of American rock n’ roll from it’s rugged cross pollination of blues and country music, through the psychedelia of the ‘60s, into the early punk scene of the ‘70s, and landing at the damaged art rock of early ‘80s New York City. These ladies know how to explore sound and they do it with style, creating something all of their own at the same time.

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