If the music-press is to be believed, the release of the much anticipated debut album from London-based duo Mississippi Witch can not adequately be reviewed without using the following words: ‘stomping’, ‘raw’, ‘gritty’, ‘bourbon-soaked’, or without some kind of cultural reference to the deep south. I, however, have decided to try.
Although appropriate to superficially describe the noise that Oli Walker and Dan Darby make, such a list of words completely fail to convey is the complexity of Black Gamble behind a barn-door of mock-simplicity. It is abundantly clear that these guys are excellent musicians, not only from their playing, but also from the unpredictable and excellent arrangements on tracks like ‘Starving of the Bee’, which breaks into quasi-psychedelic cacophony halfway through before coming back down to Earth.
It is refreshing to hear an album that contains absolutely no self-indulgent twaddle whatsoever. On the contrary, the fact that almost all of tracks dutifully come in at under 3-and-a-half minutes occasionally gives a sense of abruptness, but mainly serves to maintain the break-neck momentum of the album. This is not to say that the album does not have its share of flaws. The closing track is an unnecessary reprise of ‘Black Gamble’ with a more patient, more introspective arrangement and would have been more suitable as a b-side.
There are some rocking melodies that are immediately infectious, like the brilliant ‘Van Nuys’ and the debut single ‘For Roosevelt’, which opens the album. What is not, immediately obvious, however, is just how dark some of the writing is. With Walker’s vocals guttural, deep and desperate, often drowning in an ether of fuzzy guitar dissonance and carnal drumming. The lyrics are often as unpolished and disturbing as the music: “clean the blood from the food I’ve been serving” (Lampio) or “I’m a modern Mussolini // Clean my rotted crown” (Starving of the Bee) but never ever dull.
Other highlights include the fast, fun title track, (which sounds not dissimilar to a certain White Stripes song), and ‘Rot Foot’ which manages to hint at influences from more avant-garde contemporaries like Clinic. Or maybe that’s just the organ. Pinning these guys to any obvious influences is difficult as there is a lot of scope in their sound, and perhaps this is the best compliment of all. In a time where so much new music sounds horribly derived, the hugely talented Mississippi Witch have managed to reference a huge catalogue of sounds while still managing to sound both interesting and relevant.
A classy debut. Big things are expected from these two.