Sexwitch, the project from Natasha Khan (Bat for Lashes), TOY and Dan Carey, seemingly came out of no-where. Khan, famed for her haunting dream-pop, drew out a more abrasive style that was missing from her solo work and across the record sounds like she’s constantly on the edge; shrieking, murmuring, whistling even. But when the first single, ‘Helelyos’ came out of the blue, it all made perfect sense. ‘Helelyos’ was an Iranian folk song, but stuck to one of the funkiest basslines you’ll hear all year and Khan’s ‘woah, woah, woah’s, lyrics like ‘My dark girl’s conjured up imagery of witches and midnight covens. It was creepy, enticing and psychedelic all at once. It also showed that TOY, a band stuck in a rut after repeating more of the same on their 2013 album Join The Dots, had some instrumental magic in them after coating their songs in effects. Sexwitch isn’t just a side-project or a supergroup – it’s a breath of fresh air for all of the bands involved.
Many of the songs on the album meander for their length, coming off like some 70s prog-rock mixed with Joy Division post-punk instrumentals, ‘Kassidat El Hakka’ might as well be a summoning of long-lost Gods for all it matters. Khan repeats ‘When I die, I’ll go back to where I was’, almost growling. The vocals layer over the top of each other, making it sound like there are several Khan’s leaping around a bonfire. The drums are direct and punch through the rest of the instrumentation, even the flute and distorted guitar that comes in. Unfortunately, the guitar rarely moves from its pattern and ends up sounding like a droning noise over the top of the rest of the track. It’s a slight problem with a track that sounds utterly timeless, reimagined from a moroccan song meaning ‘The Poem of Truth’ into a experimental rock song. It takes some serious vision to hear age-old folk songs and translate them to post-punky jams, but somehow it’s done.
Credit has to be given to TOY for turning a new leaf for genre. The basslines throughout, especially on ‘Helelyos’ and ‘Ghoroobaa Ghashangan’ are like something Peter Hook would play on Unknown Pleasures and the guitars on ‘War In Peace’ jangle like an offcut from a Tarantino soundtrack. They conjure up just as much witchiness as Natasha Khan can propel with her voice. The moments where Sexwitch divert from tribal post-punk are just as good as when they are. ‘Lam Plearn Kiew Bao’ is the closest they get to a ballad and ‘War In Peace’ is dream-pop more like what TOY would put out. Unfortunately, the whole thing lasts a minute 32 minutes, which makes it sound more like an EP than a full-length and explains the rushed reports that it only took the band a day to nail down recording. If more time had been taken, the album would sound more fleshed out and less like something on the side for Khan, Casey and TOY, which is a real shame because Sexwitch has potential to go further, especially if they decided to try writing some of their own songs.
The fact that all of the songs here are covers isn’t bad at all. If anything, it’s a new leash on life for the songs and new meanings are born from the lyrics, especially ‘Helelyos’, where originally ‘My dark girls’ literally meant the girls of Iran, but here it takes on darker meanings. When Sexwitch settle into a groove like ‘Ha Howa Ha Howa’ or ‘Kassidat El Hakka’ they ride it easily and with quiet aggression, making 6+ minute songs evolve and morph into different forms as they progress, such as ‘Ha Howa Ha Howa’ which has the killer guitar that comes in on the later parts, but just needs turning up a notch. But it’s so short. It feels rushed and a few minor adjustments could see one of the most interesting ‘supergroups’ actually be better than their members initial projects.
Funnel Recommends: Ha Howa Ha Howa / Kassidat El Hakka / War In Peace