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The members of Witch Coast exude a kind of archetypal rock ’n’ roll nonchalance. Vocalist/guitarist Jon Weiss projects a breezy ease: a washed-out vibe with hat askew, cigarette dangling from lips. He should be perpetually smirking, half-lounged on some couch somewhere.
It’s all an illusion of course—Weiss and Witch Coast are out there grinding, gigging, recording, sweating the sweat, hustling the hustle—but still, that vibe pervades.
Witch Coast’s new record, Burnt Out By 3 p.m., embodies the band’s dichotomy of aesthetic. It’s a deceptively simple record: a rattling, fuzzy homage to lo-fi garage rock that exudes a stoner’s ease. It might have been recorded in a weekend, and Weiss’ rudimentary and sometimes disjointed lyrics only add to Witch Coast’s aura of laissez-faire dream-punk.
But like the band itself, the record’s slipshod sound belies its intentionality. The thing was recorded in 24 hours on a Tascam 338, the absolute cutting edge of home recording devices … in 1985.
The warbling strain of Weiss’ vocals adds depth and vintage to his straightforward lyrics. Then there’s the reverb, the ballet dance of Jordan Sander’s bass lines, and Kevin Sottek’s driving drums, all levelled flat and pushed through distortion to the point of urgency. It’s a deft trick, really: The spacy lo-fi rock act manifests as wholly forceful and punk-rock potent.
But that potency emerges in bursts. “Dopesick” begins in some dusty, open space, with Weiss’ voice bathed in melancholy, then devolves into a wild wail of a chorus: “I don’t want to be there when you’re dope sick/No I don’t want to take another white rip.” The album’s second track, “Chokehold,” approaches being outright catchy without suffering polish or silencing the band’s perpetual racket. And the surf-y, excellent “Feeling Sick” delivers perfect bouts of quiet amid a dead-on garage rock banger, the hollow ricochet of reverb filling those few moments when guitar strings fall silent.
These moments are tiny triumphs peppered throughout the record, and they collectively raise the album and the band above the overflowing garage-rock pool. At the record’s strongest, it smacks of Bass Drum of Death, only dirtier—or of Ty Segall, tamped back down to the underground.
The band’s approach can stumble at times. The high-wire balance between crafting a sound and simply sounding repetitive challenges most bands, but Witch Coast seems particularly susceptible to repetition—a side effect of such intentional sonic craftwork. Start a mid-tempo metronome at the beginning of the record and it would miss few beats throughout, and Weiss churns out a guitar sound and pace that takes few breaks from start to finish.
In the few places on the record where the songs escape the mid-tempo mire, Weiss’ oscillating vocals threaten to drown an otherwise upbeat structure and melody. The brilliant bass line and sparse guitars that open “Gold Now” give way to an ass-shaking beat that is perhaps the best on the record. But moments later, the vocals spread over the song like a hazy film—or tar poured into the gears of the machine.
These are small quibbles with a band and an album that delivers with such intent. Burnt Out By 3 p.m. strives to be a rough and urgent record, and it succeeds in wholesale quantity. But it’s in the albums’ myriad side-effects—its lyrical mystery, its rage, its momentary bouts of beauty—that Witch Coast truly shines.