The UK post-punk trio’s most accomplished album to date is stuffed to the gills with cleverly executed memorable tunes.
Amidst life’s turmoil Witching Waves’ fourth album shows they continue to be dab hands at writing the sort of earworms that take up residence in your skull and refuse leave until you’ve given them repeated plays.
‘Streams and Waterways’ sees the UK indie rock trio, centred around the core of singer/drummer Emma Wigham and singer/guitarist Mark Jasper, move further away from their early Vasalines influences. It’s there in questioning album opener ‘The Valley’ – “How is it turning/How does it show” – with its insistent, pounding start and lithe guitar, and the alternative rock dynamism of ‘Vessel’, lyrics from the latter giving ‘Streams and Waterways’ its title.
It’s also an intensely personal record for the band, one that grew to be a “psycho-geographic investigation into declining mental health, ageing and the isolation of modern life”, according to Jasper. Where the band’s earlier albums were often delightfully ramshackle affairs, ‘Streams and Waterways’ takes the weight of its inspiration very seriously.
So, there’s a more careful blending of Wigham and Jasper’s voices, a little less sprinting to the finish line and a bit more polish applied along the way. His guitar leads are no longer spindly, fragile things to be nurtured and songs aren’t swathed in sprayed chords.
Rather than adding unnecessary slickness, the songs’ carefully applied sheen gives the collection drive as the band’s sound evolves – generally further away from their scratchy lo-fi origins, though ‘Choice You Make’ threatens to fall apart in a tumble of distorted guitar as the song ends.
But now there’s space in the tracks for semi-hidden layers of sound, that catch your ear when you least expect it – like the ghostly melody that closes ‘Everytime’ or on the Joy Division bleakness of ‘Open a Hole’ and its nagging keyboard lines.
Two of the album’s highlights are saved until the end of ‘Streams and Waterways’. Its penultimate track is the gorgeously spare ‘Vision of You’, which speaks of youthful indecision and inward collapse. Its emotional resonance, particularly the repeated line “I’ll forget about you”, is further ratcheted up with the knowledge that Wigham and Jasper are partners with a young family.
Another of the album’s standout tracks is its closer ‘Chemistry’. At nearly four and a half minutes it’s the longest song on ‘Streams and Waterways’ and begins with bassist Will Fitzpatrick’s danceable groove before punk rock guitars switch in and out and Wigham and Jasper’s shared lead vocal offers perspectives on mental chemistry.
‘Streams and Waterways’ could easily fool the unwary. From the album’s title to the collage-style scrapbook artwork of photos from West Yorkshire, where it was recorded in a studio Wigham and Jasper built in an old Yorkshire mill, there’s a bucolic, homespun air to it. But the four years that went into its making, taking in pandemic interruptions and a move from London to the countryside, ended up being time well spent.
Against all the psycho-geographic isolation and challenges the album speaks of, it’s also Witching Waves’ most accomplished album to date, stuffed to the gills with cleverly executed memorable tunes.
‘Streams and Waterways‘ is out now on Specialist Subject Records and can be bought here.
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