I first fell in love with The Wytches back in 2014 as they were about to release their debut LP. A mix of danger and fragility, Annabel Dream Reader was as addictive as preview singles had promised, and it instigated the right kind of unease almost immediately. The presence of a death instinct of sorts in their music was visceral and became even more evident once I finally got to see them live: they gloriously opened the main stage of the (now defunct) Reverence Festival in 2014, a few hours after they had given me a handful of extra drink tokens in exchange for a roll of film (they were working on their photography book-to-be Full Time Meltdown).
Then All Your Happy Life came along in 2016, and even though I still found it a great album, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something didn’t feel right; it was like a vital part of them was amiss in their delivery, a blockage preventing total and complete surrender, as if they were afraid of something. In hindsight, one could blame this on a subconscious fear of not being able to follow on Annabel Dream Reader‘s significant footsteps.
And then there was silence. Apart from a couple of standalone singles, things seemed to slow down, and many wondered if The Wytches had breathed their last breath. But when “Cowboy” came galloping through in June, furiously and unexpectedly, my heart skipped a beat as it instantly recognised they were back in full force.
Described by frontman Kristian Bell as “the first thing that I’ve ever been proud of for longer than a week,” Three Mile Ditch sees The Wytches returning in excellent form, which can’t help but ring as a slight surprise once we learn about a not-so-healthy recent past during which the band’s continuity was at risk. Having they left both their UK and US labels (Heavenly and Partisan, respectively) back in 2018, instability struck again last year as original drummer Gianni Honey quit the band and they pulled out of a spring tour with Drenge. Despite playing a couple of shows as a trio later in the year, things seemed to be fairly through for them — a realisation they appeared to make peace with: “I had it in my head that this kind of thing only really happens once and to try it again might be a big waste of time,” Bell now confesses.
But with a whirlwind everything changed. The material was there, after all, impatiently waiting to be shared with the world one way or the other. So they founded their own imprint, Cable Code, and out Three Mile Ditch came in all its splendor.
Surf, psych, grunge — what’s in a name? While mid-album highlight “Meat Chuck” comes crowned with a Bleach-era Nirvana sincerity that was already noticeable in the first album, ballad “Midnight Ride” is intense with the right dose of assertiveness and unpretentiousness, featuring strings that echo Italian giallos and tragic endings ringing truer than happy ones. Bell has never concealed how much he admires Big Star’s Alex Chilton’s work, and it’s evident how much it plays a decent-sized influence in this record. But, it’s when he hurls and howls in enacted (or is it) desperation that emotions seem further resolved and blissfully fall into place, as one is often unable to describe what honesty sounds like but can easily identify it once they listen to it.
Three Mile Ditch is living proof that lightning does indeed strike the same place twice — and sometimes with a vengeance. Rumours of their death have been highly exaggerated, as The Wytches have never felt so alive. Their enthusiasm is contagious and will get them everywhere — despite their main goal being to put out music and not to resume touring (which would be impossible at this time anyway). “I never felt like I could stand behind what I was doing all that much, but with this album I really can,” Bell says – and he’s got every reason in the world for it.