White Witches – Heironymus Anonymous (AWAL album, 2018)

White Witches is a duo of Rory Lewarne, former frontman of the sorely-missed 2000s Mute act Pink Grease, and Piranha Deathray guitarist / keyboard player Jeremy Allen. For their debut album they’ve added the miscellaneous talents of ex-Art Brut drummer Mikey Breyer, Bourgeois & Maurice bassist Charlie Webb, Desperate Journalist vocalist Jo Bevan, and All Seeing I’s JP Buckle. Some six years in the making, Hieronymus Anonymous was recorded with Buckle at Jarvis Cocker’s basement studio and Dean Street studios in Soho.

Lewarne and Allen both grew up streets apart on the westernmost edges of Cornwall and describe White Witches as “dirty glam rock with a dystopian heart and a Cornish spirit”. The music here is wiry, brazen and full of nervous energy, infused with reverential flashes of Ziggy, Bolan, Ferry and the brothers Mael. Itchy guitar, clever lyrics and energetic kitwork combine together here into an album treading a tightrope between opaque fun-filled songs and seriously ominous themes, all fronted by Lewarne’s instantly familiar histrionics.

The album contains a whole host of highlights, from the theatrical melodrama of ‘Estella’ to the swirling basswork and sinewy riffery of ‘Sandcastles’, wherein Lewarne adopts a crazy falsetto amid music operating on the very edge of chaos. The title track is a strident, pathos-laden ode to a life well lived, while towering closing track ‘Savages’ blends the now-familiar White Witches sound with an undercurrent of synths and a rousing chorus amid an album of rousing choruses.

The pair claim that the album was a product of growing up in a way that being in a band like Pink Grease didn’t allow, while in Allen’s case it also involved dealing with life-limiting alcoholism; in spite of what should be, on paper, a relatively mature album, HeironymusAnonymous is bratty, irreverent, original and punk as fuck.

Listen to Heironymus Anonymous here.

(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence

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Junip – Fields (Mute Corporation album, 2010)

Junip‘s Fields presented a dilemma – to review or not? This whole site has tended to focus on Mute‘s UK releases, and I’ve never quite gotten around to looking at the Mute Corporation‘s US-only records. Fields was released in Europe on City Slang, yet released on Mute in the States. I’d heard ‘Always’, a quite beautiful track released as a single, but it didn’t make me want to buy and review the album necessarily. When a Twitter friend and fellow Mute fan said that he’d been listening to Junip and suggested it had a Krautrock sound, that was the clincher. I’d downloaded a few Junip tracks, including some unreleased stuff from rcrdlbl.com and the free Rope & Summit EP but they were just gathering dust on my hard-drive. When Chris said that about the Krautrock vibe, I decided it was high time I acquiesced; when I found Fields on sale in Fopp for a criminal £3.00 the decision to review was reasonably academic, especially once I’d heard it, as it’s excellent.

First, the proposition: Junip is a trio formed of three Swedish musicians, guitarist and vocalist José González (okay, Argentinian / Swedish), drummer Elias Araya and keyboard player Tobias Winterkorn. González is naturally familiar for his genteel solo work and classical guitar playing, with a body of work that includes covers of The Knife‘s arresting ‘Heartbeats’ and doom stalwart Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Prior to Fields they’d released an EP (Black Refuge) in 2004, the year before González’s solo début.

The Junip sound is difficult to place. There is, at certain points, a very evident motorik ethic. ‘Rope & Summit’ is one example; ‘Howl’, another, is so Can that the surviving members of the band could feasibly sue Junip for the rhythm’s similarity to their ‘Oh Yeah’; ‘Off Point’ rides on a beat that Neu! may well have cast to one side whilst writing ‘Heroes’ but straps on a skiffly, country twang.

What’s possibly more evident is a more broad ‘psychedelic’ or ‘prog’ folk sound, albeit without the huge keyboard soloing (check out the very end of closing track ‘Tide’ for the closest it comes). There’s something about the way that the album was recorded which sounds like a distant echo from forty years ago; a slightly muddy sound and vaguely trippy vibe pervades, enhanced by González’s echoing, ruminatively innocent vocal. ‘Without You’ is a case in point – a beautiful song which sounds like a type of psychedelic folk, augmented by a mysterious synth that drifts in in the second half; references to nature reinforce the folk angle, as does the weathered-looking sleeve design with its geometric hippy motifs.

‘It’s Alright’ can’t decide if it’s going down the trippy folk or trippy blues route, but while we wait for it to decide, it potters along with intent on a lovely bass line, while minimal percussion slowly and cautiously nudges into view. It’s dainty, especially when the hi-hats and tinkly keyboards usher in a muted beat. ‘It’s alright’ murmurs González, which rather sells this song short; for me, along with ‘Howl’ and ‘To The Grain’ it is one of the album’s highlights. ‘Sweet & Bitter’ has a deep, clipped funk edge with fat bass sounds and an ethereal web of synth sounds, which you almost wish would dominate the track completely, prog-stylee. Toward the end it feels like we’re approaching some such freak out, but it’s far too ordered and controlled for that.

‘Don’t Let It Pass’ is a beautiful, serene ballad, González’ voice floating delicately above a sweet folksy accompaniment. The synth solo here is laced with a heart-stopping emotion, while the harmonised title is freighted with a maudlin, weary tone. ‘To The Grain’ and ‘Tide’ mine the same sound, but both are much more dramatic in many ways; examples of songs where you can’t work out whether it’s positive and affirming or filled with poignancy and regret.

I’ll let you decide.

Fields was recorded and produced by Don Alstherberg and Junip; Alstherberg also supplies bass on ‘Always’, ‘Without You’ and ‘Tide’.

Originally posted 2011 / re-posted 2018.

(c) 2011 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence