In May 2022, alternative rock duo West Wickhams released ‘She Will Have Her Way’, an excellent EP driven by very retro goth, dreampop and synthpop sounds. Their ‘Magenta’ EP (released in November the same year) finds the band recycling a lot of the same moods, yet at the same time, the material conveys a feeling of moving forward. It’s safe to say that those who enjoyed the previous release will glean a similar amount of enjoyment from this timely follow up.
‘Swear Above Suspicion’ sets the tone very well via a spiky post-punk riff with a slightly gothy edge. There are odd traces of Jon’s former band, Dead Wolf Club, lurking deeply within the reverb, along with a huge swathe of Wire inspired sound to create a strong backdrop. There are even a couple of moments where older listeners might hear a faint echo of ‘Dirk’ era Adam & The Ants coming from the mechanical guitar lines, all of which helps to paint a great retro sound. With a quiet vocal weaving in and out of the music in a way that’s part ghost-like and almost part extra instrumentation, it’s soon clear that this opener is more about mood and riffs, but those who’ve followed Jon and Elle since the beginning will easily find something to latch onto, despite everything feeling somewhat vague in terms of being an actual song.
The EP’s highlight, ‘This Is A Hang Up’ drops even further into an early 80s alternative/goth world, and delivers a punchy bassline and mechanised rhythm that isn’t a million miles away from early Bauhaus, which is enough alone to provide entertainment. Taking that and pushing in a little ‘Faith’ era Cure, the tune gains momentum with the help of a jangling guitar, and by the mid point, it all begins to sound like a lost indie recording from 1981. As before, Jon’s voice floats in and out, with an unsettling and almost spiritual nature – sounding at times as if he’s actually bleeding through from another recording – but in terms of creating another great atmosphere, this lo-fi approach is key to making the Wickhams’ DIY sounds distinctive in their own way. Everything here is great, but it’s really down to Elle’s rhythmic approach that keeps the music focused, and the same could be said for ‘The Sentinels’, which is entirely reliant on the mechanics to hold everything together. Much like a lot of early UK goth, stripped of the mid-tempo beat, this would just be an unsettling combination of dour vocal, atonal keys and a deep desire to offset the listener. However, like their forebears, West Wickhams manage to tap into a sound that somehow works despite itself, and for fans of the style, there’ll be an easy pleasure to be found in hearing another ethereal vocal joined by some colder mechanics. Even though this has a starkness that’s more obvious than anything on ‘She Will Have Her Way’, it’s by no means impenetrable – even though, at times, it might seem as if it wants to be.
At the more melodic end of the scale, ‘Even The Heathers Ask Why’ provides a hefty dose of late 80s jangle pop atop the expected cold gothdom, and Jon’s intermittent vocal shouts escalate a strangely cinematic feel. It’s like hearing an early 80s Cure b-side with C-86 overdubs, played back through an old Dead Wolf Club filter. It’s aloof, yet at the same time, conveys a strangely familiar tone, and even though it won’t be for everyone, it’s the track that’s most likely to be commercial enough to reel in new ears…without being commercial at all. Rounding out the release, the short ‘Masculin Feminin Hot Jump’ offers even more of a standard indie sound via occasional ringing guitars and bell like keys, but a particularly Peter Hook derived bassline continues to fly the flag for the Wickhams love of all things cold and mechanical. In under two minutes, this is the ultimate love letter to obtuse post punk, and almost the perfect time capsule of this duo’s own take on the goth/shoegaze/post-whatever scenes, capturing a really pure arrangement. For all the times West Wickhams can seem a little too obtuse, it’s glimmers such as this that always make their recordings worthwhile.
This is a solid companion to ‘She Will Have Her Way’. In many ways, the core sound is the same, but there are moments where the Wickhams desire to experiment seems a little more obvious, but that’s also balanced out via the punchy melodicism of tracks like ‘Masculin…’, which helps this release seem surprisingly well rounded. Jon and Elle clearly seem to understand that these sonic pieces work far better in the short EP format, too, which means there’s no time for your attention to wander too much. For lovers of all things dark and retro, this is definitely worth an ear.
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