Leslie Winer - Witch
28th Jan 2005
After the very first listen to this album I was disappointed. The height of expectation was too much. Of course if you're aware of my album rating theory then you'll know I try to listen to new albums a few times before making any kind of serious judgement.
Before buying this album over four months ago I'd heard rumour that it was supposed to be some sort of precursor to trip-hop... no prejudice round here though. The drum-beats and basslines on several tracks, like "In 1 Ear" and "The Boy Who Used To Whistle", have a certain familiarity that one may associate with early trip-hop pioneers like Massive Attack butthat's where the trip-hop trip ends.
As a whole this album has three major elements that collectively make it a unique listening experience. It's impossible to say it all sounds likes one person or some single group because it radiates it's own inimitable, glowing attitude. Breaking it down into distinct elements, there's the trip-hop beats, which sound as fresh and contemporary today as they probably sounded alien fifteen years ago. Then from the trip-hop thing comes an understandable reference to hip-hop in the form of sampling. In today's musical climate, sampling is so passe but way back then in the dark ages of dance music it was de rigueur. Mind you the respectable sample choices still resonate a certain "cool" today. And finally from the hip-hop side of things comes the most distinctive element in Winer's whispering, rapping of lyrics over the top... over-dubbed I mean. Comparisons could include Lou Reed's talking style of singing or Mark E. Smith's lyrical diatribes; perhaps another possible reference could be Public Enemy. Ultimately, none of these guys did it with electronic, trippy beats.
Right from the start the dubby, echoey request "could you turn the lights out please?" sets the tone, mood and context perfectly. This is seductive music that needs the appropriate setting: respectful. Listen to it when you chill or chill by listening to it. The album can be consumed for the music and beats alone; background music if you like! Of course there's some fine singing on tracks like "He Was", "John Says", "Skin" and "Dream 1", but after a few listens I wouldn't be surprised if one's overall impression was that it's a spoken word album because the majority of tracks are largely beats and hushed, husky, American talking / rapping. If you're like me you prefer to let lyrics float by without too much of a song-and-dance (that's why I prefer the likes of Ellen Allien and Michael Mayer these days; no real effort involved). If you are listening to the lyrics for an insight into Winer's mind, you're probably wasting your time. Sure, she was influenced by William Boroughs but you won't get a modicum of meaning or an anecdote or anything else other than some disparate thoughts. I recommend you focus on the cool "Jah Wobble" base-lines and the trippy beats.
There's many highlights over the nine tracks, mostly for musical reasons rather than lyrical:
- He Was
A delicious, snaky bass-line and electric piano chime with the sung refrain "born and bred in the heart of the city". Good intro
Perhaps the most adventurous track on the whole album. The vibrating, deep beats and skewed, snare-drum-sound can be heard in so much ambient, house and techno music that's followed in the intervening 15 years. Think: Renegade Soundwave, Orbital, Throbbing Gristle, Massive Attack and The Orb, to name just a few. A ground-breaker
- In 1 Ear
The best and most coherent lyrics on the album:
If I get raped it must have been my fault
And if I get bashed I must have provoked it
And if I raise my voice I'm a nagging bitch
And if I like fucking, I'm a whore
And I don't wanna I never wanna
(you never wanna, you never wanna)
And if I love a woman
It's because I can't get a real man or
It's for his enjoyment
And if I ask my doctor too many questions
I'm neurotic and
I need pills
But I still can't get safe birth control
While some fucker's roaming the moon
The whole beatbox sound brings to mind The Art of Noise.
- The Boy Who Used To Whistle
Another wriggly base-line and spoken dialogue but this time sporting the best trip-hop beats heard anytime in the 1980's. Just check out the record-scratching noises (I know, it's not actual scratching) from 3.05 before the repetitive, single-note base beats itself out at 3.53 to leave an amazing trippy beat to the close of the track. Brilliant!
- John Says
The most melodious by far with the gentle strum of accoustic guitar, until the chunky beats rumble in at 1.55. Another belter
A long track of samples and lyrics. Most notably the guitar refain from the Buffalo Springfield classic: "For What's It's Worth" heard in the background over the child's voice from 0.10 to 0.30 and then later in the long, drawn-out fade from 6.35. Interestingly, also in the long fade out (coming in clearly at 7.00), is that the riff from the huge Chris Izaak hit "Wicked Game"? If so that wouldn't have been a sample! Spooky!
- Once Upon A Time
Famous Captain Beefheart guitar riff looped round and round for the entire track. Possibly my favourite because I love the drums. Some anonymous sample pleading "please don't stand" is used to perfection. Just check out the section from 2.58 just after Winer intones "please please please please" as if she couldn't care less, the sample loops in before the drums, timed to perfection, come back in at 3.13. Subtle and tasteful. Moby must have heard this
Another accoustic number with a sing-a-long chorus
- Dream 1
A gentle, blissed-out closer. "Yeah, keep it simple"
The importance of the album in terms of it's early influence on the burgeoning dance music scene is a very difficult call to make. I'm not sure how well it sold; but I suppose all it needed was for Tricky to hear it. In terms of who influenced Winer I imagine she must have been aware of Coldcut around the late eighties.
Today, Winer sadly isn't cherished as the rightful queen of trip-hop. Why? Well, in a nutshell: she never made a follow up to "Witch". Perseverance may have payed off big style... but then la vache qui lit would never have graced our internets.
Rating: 9/10 (after 200+ listens)