This is what happens in a melting pot. Back in 2009, when the fledgling witch house genre gained an initial modicum of blogosphere success, it combined codeine-drenched rhythms, Stephen King synth figures, and Houston rap’s purple drank drawl in unlikely forms. It captured short-lived interest, and by the time Tyler, the Creator’s horrorcore came around, much of the deviant interest generated by a group like Salem seemed tame in comparison.
So witch house had to move on. In the past six months, it’s apparent that the progenitors of the genre are trying to do just that. Balam Acab brightened and softened the corners of his sound, walking into a light that “See Birds” couldn’t have predicted. oOoOO, too, seems to be drifting toward the more lit corners of the haunted house this stable has called home. Now Tri Angle Records, which became a home to many of these artists, has signed Evian Christ, the irreverent pseudonym of 22-year-old U.K. producer Joshua Leary, who made a name for himself anonymously posting the songs of his newly-released full length Kings and Them on YouTube.
Leary does something different with the typical tropes of witch house as well, but instead of the comparatively sunny moves of labelmates oOoOO or Balam Acab, Kings and Them dives further into the drugged out Southern rap that gave Salem its most interesting dimension, while maintaining the translucent ghost sounds that initially set witch house apart from its logical predecessor, chillwave. Which sounds as though it could be a pretty dull listen, but it mostly isn’t.
The electronics on Kings and Them are pretty rudimentary. Yet, while even the richest synth tones have a dry and cheap edge to them, like you can hear the “download this patch for free!” button that sat adjacent, it never detracts from the experience of the record. That’s because Leary knows the limitations of his palette. You can tell with the inelegant way he splices apart his vocal material. It’s as if the cuts he makes were performed with a sharp-ass battleaxe, separated cleanly but with violence, like on album centerpiece “Fuck It None Of Y’all Don’t Crap” or “Snapback Back.” It gives those Fruity Loops tones and drums a sense of intent and malice.
It’s also interesting the manner in which Leary manipulates his vocal material. While rap has always been predicated on hearing the lyrics and making sense of the words, Leary seems intent on turning these performances into Joyce-ian wordplay. He trips up vocals, making them stutter around the beats, or drowns them in cough syrup until they’re so slow that they’re unintelligible, or he uses only assonant vowel sounds to form melodies, strung together with hard edges that rub together like scraping metal. It’s a neat trick, but one that could have worn out its welcome on a longer album.
Kings and Them is only thirty-three minutes long, which is a good thing. While the record is sonically pleasing, you wouldn’t want the near-single note that Christ plays to last much longer than thirty minutes. The only outlier from his creep show atmospherics vs. mush-mouth purple drank rap here is the straight Acab-ian closer “Fridge, Crank, Gun.” If you’ve heard all these songs before on YouTube, the best reason to cop the mixtape is the remastered quality, which gives each element a lot more room to breathe than the condensed YouTube bitrates. If you haven’t, and you’re still feeling 2009-y, Kings and Them marks a solid update in the suddenly revitalized drag sound.