A limited, but mostly successful garage rock jaunt
Garage rock trio L.A. Witch, founded entirely by LA natives, have unleashed their second full-length release called Play With Fire. It’s possible that vocalist/guitarist Sade Sanchez, bassist Irita Pai and drummer Ellie English all had completely different interpretations of what this title meant relative to the actual content of the album. One might very reasonably assume that the primary purpose of this title is to encapsulate the theme of directly and fearlessly addressing both one’s individual problems and experiences, and the more widespread and difficult to wrangle societal issues. By the end of the album though, the title can feel a bit like an accidental reference to the odd fire (lack of diversity in instrumentation and vocal performance) with which L.A. Witch plays in the most underwhelming moments on this mostly entertaining sophomore album.
The album begins with a rock solid 1-2 punch: “Fire Starter” into “Motorcycle Boy.” This pair is exactly the rough-and-tumble intro that this album deserves, and exemplifies the group’s strength for carrying the rawness of a sweaty live performance onto a studio album. The second track transitions nicely into “Dark Horse,” in which the group takes a more deliberate approach, utilizing acoustic guitar to bring a certain airiness to their usual energy (which does satisfyingly peak around the cathartic chorus).
L.A. Witch does a great job of centering the primary thematic content on the middle third of this nine-track album. Through lyrics like, “I wanna be the one/ To end the fight/ I wanna be the one/ To make things right,” Sanchez recognizes the importance of personal commitment in the fight to make this world a better place on “I Wanna Lose.” On “Gen-Z,” she explores the power of Gen Z, and their extremely important role in this (ideally) universal personal commitment to betterment for all. “Sexorexia” encourages the exploration of oneself far beyond how just he/she is reflected in a significant other. Lyrically, all three of these songs nail the content, but unfortunately also represent Play With Fire’s main flaw; L.A. Witch’s trouble with going beyond their most reliable instrumental and vocal choices.
At this point in the album, Sanchez’s vocals and guitar work are starting to grow a bit tired. It’s never a total disappointment or failure, but it also never really feels like the group, which is clearly capable of making great music in a certain vein, might not be all that interested in pushing beyond that relatively limited vein.
The album ends with another run of three tracks, “Maybe the Weather,” “True Believers” and “Starred.” The first and third of these tracks again show the instrumental and vocal complacency that damages the strength of this otherwise sturdy album. While “Starred” is definitely not a perfect closer, the nonspecific lyrics/vocals and milquetoast instrumentation on “Maybe the Weather” are definitely the project’s biggest misfire. “True Believers” is an album highlight, but at its barely two-minute runtime, it isn’t given enough room to breathe in a way that would leave the impact that this song deserves.
Amazing guitar melodies, crisp technical work and intense drums across all nine of these tracks elevate the album, and become L.A. Witch’s hallmarks on this project. If this is enough to satisfy listeners, Play With Fire is likely to be an enjoyable 30 minutes. Honestly, despite its lesser moments, it generally is quite enjoyable. The unfortunate reality though, is that the band is capable of much more than their worst moments on Play With Fire. Hopefully, their next project can become a better distillation of their ferocious energy and incisive writing, and less of an exemplification of their few weaknesses.