SOLARIUM DOWN THE CAUSEWAY - Witch Hats (Z-Man Records)
Somewhere in the midst of their recent tour of the United States, Witch Hats found some time to set aside their Thompson-Kerouac-Jack London indulgences and lay down a bunch of songs in OJ Simpson’s old stamping ground (and my parents’ one time residence), Oakland, California.
"The result is the Solarium Down the Causeway" EP, the second release on Lou Ridsdale’s Z-Man Records. The EP opens with typical attitude – on "Stomach Your Hair" Kris Buscombe rants, spits and intones like a suburban preacher warning of the evils of pursuing a life of decadence and depravity, while Tomas Barry stabs the frightened onlookers with razor chords stolen from Tom Verlaine’s punk shed. "Check the Center" lumbers down the road like a drug-crazed weirdo following a light of psychedelic enlightenment, the interplay between Duncan Blachford’s military drumbeat and Ash Buscombe’s bass a dual for rhythmic supremacy that never really ends.
"Pleasure Syndrome" is an exercise in chaos, a multi-layered collage of fuzz-lined chords, frenetic rhythms and emphatic vocals that makes the average blood spattered B-grade horror film seem like an LM Montgomery novel; the Birthday Party-esque Fucking With the Atmosphere might be the threatening ode the green movement has been searching for to capture the apocryphal reality of impending environmental collapse. Sessa (Son Of a Silo Salesman) is as violently compelling as it its title as obtuse, its foundation a shotgun marriage of pulsing beats and jagged chords, topped off with a psychotic invocation of Blondie’s Hanging On the Telephone in the dying moments.
The concluding track, "I Am Parolling", is the closest thing on the EP to a pop track, a loose and lush contrast to the acute intensity of the preceding tracks.
Rumour has it that there are a few more tracks lying around the cutting room floor that didn’t survive the punishing gaze of objective assessment. For that we’ll probably have to wait for the retrospective box-set; until then, let’s just be thankful for the inordinate excellence of the tracks deemed worthy of release.- Patrick Emery
Captured at Bay Area recording hot spot The Creamery during an extended US tour, "Solarium Hats Down The Causeway" is one brief but intense, 20-minute trip. Travelling through these six songs is like walking down a dimly-lit corridor and peering into one dark room after another. It's disaffecting and unsettling when you look but you're dragged on so you keep going.
Witch Hats' debut album "Cellulite Soul" showed some oblique Birthday Party influences that are still there in the lurching "Fucking With The Universe", but on balance "Solarium Hats" is a harder beast to pin down. There's a distinct industrial edge to "Stomach In Your Hair" for example, while "Check the Center" is the closest these boys will get to crafting a pop song in its muffled munificence.
"Sessa (Son Of A Silo Salesman)" is a hypnotic groove with cast iron guitar figures laid over the top. "I Am Parolling" skids by on a sludgy bottom-end surge and jolting guitar and shows a terrific appreciation of dynamics. Singer Kris Buscombe's trouble-with-a-capital-T vocalising is a pleasure to behold, not only on these two but right through this record.
Reading other people's reviews before committing something to virtual paper is usually a no-no but I had to laugh when I saw a critical comment that the lo-fi production was a barrier to wider Witch Hats acceptance. And these guys are Short Stack?
Make a copy yours. -The Barman
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CELLULITE SOUL - Witch Hats (Infidelity Records)
If "Wound of a Little Horse" was the teaser for what local band Witch Hats were capable, "Cellulite Soul" chucks you on the floor and commits unspeakable acts of rock’n’roll excitement rarely spoken of in mixed company. Witch Hats – note the absence of the definite article, an editorial attribute that may one day define the before and after of the band's commercial tenure – is a band that explores the dark side of the rock genre, where the perversity of humanity is naked for the suspecting eye to see. But it's also a world where humour shines through the darkness, like the glint of an eye in the arid dry repartee of an odorous bar fly propping up the bar with tales of a life ruined by errant lifestyle choices. To take Witch Hats at face value is to ignore the subtlety that lies immediately beneath the barrage of bass and drums, razor sharp guitar and acidic vocals.
"Cellulite Soul" staggers into action with the ruthless discipline of "Before I Weigh". Ash Buscombe’s bass line is simultaneously supple, subtle and mesmerising. Kris Buscombe lets loose with a scream that suggests some mediaeval acts has been perpetuated on his person. Duncan Blanchford’s metronomic drum barricades the listener into the room and Thomas P Barry’s guitar slices periodically through the sonic atmosphere like a bloke wearing a hockey mask and a psychotic attitude rendered in jagged swamp chords. Kris Buscombe pleads for the return of his lost soul, but somehow you figure the devil might’ve written that particular item off in perpetuity. From there it’s a collage of white noise found under the rubble of a New York basement, held together with bass lines thicker than a rugby league player’s neck in "I Can’t Stay At Home".
But just as you think this is going to be an album that’s going to be darker than the astronomical apocalypse that’s apparently around the corner, "Climing Up Yr Cable" (sic) finds Witch Hats edging around pop territory, unsure whether to put their foot in the ring, or to stand outside sneering and snarling like the suburban misfits who ended up in the Birthday Party and the Scientists almost 30 years ago. The band’s ironic social humour comes to the fore on the Western, with Kris Buscombe musing on the historical precedents that illuminate the peculiarities of the contemporary world – or then again, that might be projection on my part, but it’s still a good fucking song. What’s not in dispute is that Hellhole is enough to send you off to the closest place of worship to seek solace and redemption lest you be condemned to an eternity in hell – or listening to Phil Collins records, whichever is worse.
Blanchford’s rumbling beats transpose "Collingwood" into the middle of the Belgian Congo, while Barry’s guitar hacks away like a bug-eyed amateur surgeon let loose in a mortuary for kicks. On one listening – or maybe two – "Potaoto Feet" (sic again) is the contemporary reincarnation of Public Image Ltd’s Rise, though it’s unlikely the perennially grumpy Mr Lydon would understand the metaphor that lies within potato podiatry. Then there’s Summer of Pain – again, is this ironic humour or an encapsulation of where Witch Hats are headed? – a barrelling journey into extreme sonic sensation set against the backdrop of Ash Buscombe’s thundering bass and Blanchford’ frenetic drums.
At that moment the end could well be nigh for your precious sensibilities, but there’s relief in the form of "Ma Lord". Hushed vocals, a lush folk melody and a plea for redemption – maybe things will be alright for even the harshest of sinners. So what do you make of Neil Diamond Entry? Neil is a straight guy, and chances he wouldn’t have a clue why his name has been taken in vain for this freight train form of a rock track. With Kris Buscombe’s vocals distorted to the tone of an asylum escapee and guitar licks that wrap themselves around like snake whipped into a frenzy, this is the tune that illustrates why Witch Hats are so utterly compelling – darkness fights humour for supremacy and noise wins out.
As you’re lying flat on the ground, overwhelmed by the intensity and excellence of what "Cellulite Soul" has provided so far, Doors Film – again, would Oliver Stone understand what’s happening here? – looms large in your senses, and ushers you into the twilight of Witch Hats’ journey. If "Cellulite Soul" isn’t one of the best albums of 2008, then fuck knows – or even cares – what is. - Patrick Emery
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