There are albums that get to me right at the very first listen session. They have something that make me prick up my ears and pay attention. The Witch is one of those albums. The further I got into the album, the more I liked it, the more it seemed to have it's own unique feel.
This impression did not change with further sessions with the album. Our relationship easily deepened. Now the challenge is to find the right words.
The Witch is the first album by Pumarosa, a London based band fronted by Isabel Munoz-Newsome. The clock is turned back decades, while pretending very hard to be in 2017. So many familiar sounds come by, sounds that have been played for years and still they sound so fresh on The Witch. Pumarosa mixes a few qualities within its music that fall together into a statement of no small proportions. Youthful exuberance meets a longing to reach for things behind the corner, while a certain shyness meets an expectation of greatness.
The album opens with 'Dragonfly' in which the band makes a statement right away. It is hard to ignore what is on offer. The opening song is much more direct than the more experimental stuff coming on later in the longer songs, that will leave plenty of room for playing around between the musicians on stage. In fact the album starts with a few seconds of silence before soft keyboard sounds come in that slowly fill my room more and more. An isolated bass note joins and Munoz-Newsome starts singing over the keyboard landscape. When the rhythm section joins in it is with an 'The Unforgettable Fire' pulse. Isobel's singing reminds me faintly of the young Bono. All is atmosphere, soundscapes, with outbursts of guitars in the chorus.
'Honey', the second song, is a lot more solid. "Oh, you stupid son of a bitch", follows "God gave us honey". An interesting lyric to say the least. The song brings me into 'Gloria' territory, U2s first single of its second album 'October'. And I will stop there with the comparisons, because I listen to The Witch in one go without any trouble and there isn't a single album of you U2 I can listen to as a whole. It does help though to pinpoint where this music is taking me, to the first half of the 80s. With the difference that the music of Pumarosa has something upbeat. Even in the more laden songs like the title song and 'Priestess' there is always a sun somewhere. 'Honey' plays itself out in a great way. The song is brought to a great climax without ever overdoing it. Pumarosa knows how to restrain itself to have a much bigger impact.
'The Witch' reminds me of Elenne May. You will recognise a lot of the atmosphere of this song in several of the songs of the Amsterdam based band. If you like this song, you better start listening. 'Veggie Patch In The Desert' is one of my favourite albums of all time.
With 'The Priestess' Pumarosa comes close to the atmospheres The Black Angels evokes on its latest, fantastic album 'Death Song'. Without the heavy 60s sounds that band depends on. Still, in 2017 so far that is the biggest compliment I can give to an album, as I haven't heard a better one yet. 'The Priestess' seems to delve into a knowledge that is set outside of time, the eternal. "You dance, you dance, you dance" and there the rhythm goes. Again, all that restraint, yet standing still will not be an option. The saxophone is the only exuberance Pumarosa allows itself. The message is so clear. Lasting for 7"30 minutes, the listener is slowly brought into the trance the priestess already is in. There were bands like this in the 80s also, bands I long ago forgot the names of. Pumarosa allows a hint at commerciality into its music, making it so much more worthwhile listening to.
By then it is also clear that Pumarosa likes to take its time. The shortest song, 'Hollywood' clocks in at one second under four minutes. An atmosphere is built and expanded upon until a modest and more modern walls of sound spout from the disc. This can be a laden song like 'Lion's Den' or a more upbeat song with the downbeat title 'Gruesome', one of the more poppy songs on The Witch. The singing may have a Bananarama hint to it, it is one of my favourite vocal outings on The Witch. The upbeat sound allows Isabel Munoz-Newsome to do more with her voice. Highs and lows are reached, instead of the solemness in the slower songs.
Pumarosa manages to keep my attention easily while the record progresses. The fact that a different sound is added to a song, like a funky guitar or a modern beat under an acoustic guitar, makes the songs sound slighlty different from each other. Only "Witches" or "Priestesses" would have been killing, no matter how monumental.
With that last word, I come close to a conclusion. It's too early to tell yet, but it may be that this album may reach that level, monumental. In the meantime I am listening to one of the best debut albums of 2017. A lot is happening here in a very balanced way, that shows a level of maturity way beyond the band's status. The Witch is intriguing and good, with room left to grow abundantly.
It all goes out with a bang of an 80s influenced dance rock outing 'The Snake' in which something of all the 80s new wave female singers seem to come together, Siouxie, Hazel O'Connor, Toyah, etc. A great way to end an album.
You can listen to 'Dragonfly' here: