On L.A. Witch’s self-titled 2017 debut, guitarist/vocalist Sade Sanchez purred and crooned over jangling chords while bassist Irita Pai and drummer Ellie English provided a full-bodied thump and intoxicating swing. The album had an air of effortlessness, a natural flow that hit a snag when the band’s popularity grew and they began touring regularly, so a new strategy became necessary for their sophomore album, the swaggering and beguiling Play With Fire. “Play With Fire is a suggestion to make things happen,” says Sanchez. “Don’t fear mistakes or the future. Take a chance. Say and do what you really feel, even if nobody agrees with your ideas.” Album opener “Fire Starter” becomes an anthemic call to action against apathy, followed by the similarly bodacious rocker “Motorcycle Boy.” “Dark Horse” explores new territory, unfurling with a mixture of Dustbowl folk, psychedelic breakdowns, and fire-and-brimstone organs. And from there, the band only gets more adventurous.
Between their touring schedule, studio availability, and the timeline for releasing records, L.A. Witch found themselves with only two months to do the bulk of writing for Play With Fire. They holed up for January and February, essentially self-quarantining for the writing process before March’s mandatory COVID shutdown. “As far as the creative process goes, this record is a result of sheer willingness to write,” says Sanchez. “When you sit down and make things happen, they will happen, rather than waiting to be inspired.” The time constraints and focused writing sessions ultimately forced the band into new territories. “I’ve definitely learned that having restrictions forces you to think outside the box,” says Pai. “That structure really brings about creativity in an unexpected and abundant way.” While L.A. Witch isn’t looking for a total transformation, they’ve stridden boldly forward with the amped-up riffs and slashing fuzz lines of “I Wanna Lose.” Even the song’s message, a celebration of defeat as a starting point for rebirth and redemption, wields a kind of gravity that feels new for the band. “Gen-Z” carries a heavy weight as well, as Sanchez ponders the rise in suicide rate in a generation raised with social media between lashings of air-raid siren guitar leads. “Sexorexia” wields a fiery garage rock energy unmatched by any other moment in their catalog; “Maybe the Weather” is a minor-key country tune given the cosmic treatment of hard-tremolo keys, woozy backward slide guitar, and heady production techniques; and “True Believers” offers up a filthy noise-inflected punk scorcher. The album wraps up with “Starred,” a druggy exploration of guitar squall built on Pai’s grimy bass and English’s propulsive groove. Play With Fire is a bold new journey that retains L.A. Witch’s siren-song mystique, nostalgic spirit, and contemporary cool. Despite the stylistic breadth of the record, there is a unifying timbre across the album’s nine tracks, as if the trio of young musicians is bound together as a collective of old souls tapping into the sounds of their previous youth.
“A loud sophomore record worthy of following up their acclaimed eponymous debut.” -Grimy Goods
“Their intriguing, austere rock has a distinct edge while coming off downright narcotic, as if you’re trapped in a dream directed by David Lynch.” -Alternative Press
RIYL: Death Valley Girls, Bleached, The Coathangers, Dum Dum Girls, The Cramps, Slutever, The Kills, Vivian Girls, The Gun Club, Thee Oh Sees
Goes For Adds 8/25
Label: Suicide Squeeze