Albums, Music, The Revue — May 22, 2017 at 5:40 am

PUMAROSA – ‘The Witch’ (album review)

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For more than two years, PUMAROSA have been thrilling music listeners, including ourselves, with their spectacular brand of indie electro-rock. With each single released, it became apparent their music is equally made to buzz through the most secluded, underground night clubs and the cavernous confines of the world’s top theatres. Their popularity, in turn, gradually grew, and they have reached the level of indie stardom to be headlining their own tour and landing lucrative spots at the Reading and Leeds Festivals. As they head out on tour, this time they will be armed with their debut album, The Witch.

The Witch is more than just an impressive first effort. It is a hurtling train that only has one objective – to pulverize everyone that comes in its path. The Witch is, in short, a sensational album. The album features the best bookends of any LP released this year. “Dragonfly” opens the record, and it is frighteningly delirious. The hammer of the electric guitar, the stark production work, and the tickling rhythms create a soundscape that feels like something out of Pan’s Labyrinth. But what sweeps you into “Dragonfly” is frontwoman Isabel Munoz-Newsome’s fearless vocals, which guides us into the band’s mystical realm.

Its companion is the mesmerizing “Snake”, which is unlike anything they’ve previously shared. The band scours the dark alleys of New Orleans and Mumbai to produce a whirling, voodoo psychedelic number that is mind-altering. The electric guitar is transformed into a sitar while Munoz-Newsome’s voice acts like a pungi, hypnotizing us with its searing but stunning quality. But who is the snake? Is it an enchantress or even someone or something more sinister? Whomever or whatever it is (government maybe), it has a stranglehold on our soul, and we are a prisoner inside her world.

The two songs provide the framework for what is held inside, which is a treasure trove of delights. Two such jewels are “Honey” and “Red”, and both are Blondie-esque in their approach and sound. The piercing and assertive “Honey” is akin to the post-punk rock of the late ’70s. Muñoz-Newsome‘s vocals take on that of a war cry, which is perfect for this song about a person who has betrayed her trust. “You stupid son-of-a-bitch”, Muñoz-Newsome hollers with conviction. There’s no beating around the bush with the lyrics on this track. Instead, PUMAROSA have shared words we all wanted to say to someone at one point in our lives.

Meanwhile on “Red”, PUMAROSA deliver their most dazzling and cinematic number. The arrangements are fantastic with the guitar and rhythms working in unison to create a groovy, smokey soundscape. Then the synths arrive and flood the song with a layer of sensuality. Muñoz-Newsome’s vocals are ethereal, as she describes a couple’s last night on earth.

On an album full of remarkable songs, one stands above, and that is the epic “Priestess”. Released back in 2015 (and one of our favourite songs of that year), “Priestess” sounds as fresh as it did two years ago. The song’s industrial and krautrock foundations are haunting and engrossing, leaving one in a mind-number daze. If the music was fantasy-like, the songwriting is right out of the mind of Guillermo del Toro.

Who made you so clear and strong
Cut from clay and stone?
Electricity flows through your spine and it shows
In the night when we’re alone
It must be hard, you’re being so statuesque.
People just wanna look
But you put all these things back to bed when
You kick off your shoes.

“Lion’s Den”, though, is the band’s most ambitious track. Commencing with a stark, PJ Harvey-esque approach, the song slowly builds with the arrangements circling around the theme of power, oppression, and desire. Just as Muñoz-Newsome‘s voice turns menacing, the tune turns into a ferocious rocker. The title track, “The Witch”, shares a similar theme, pointing to the world around us for creating who we are. “It’s not human nature. It’s what they made you,” the Spaniard sings cloyingly on this surprisingly gentle number.

“Hollywood” is the quiet darling, coming in two to three minutes shorter than most of the songs on The Witch. The infusion of the saxophone over the Radiohead-esque electronic approach are tantalizing. What drives the song, though, are the incredibly moving and vivid lyrics, which tackle head on the Western world’s obsession with fame and wealth.

Hollywood ate my baby and took her clean away,
So I sold my smile to a gallery.

They’re hanging it today.

PUMAROSA, though, won’t need to sell their soul or anything else for that matter to achieve fame. With The Witch, they have delivered a remarkable album that is not merely one of the – if not THE – best debuts of the year, but also a strong candidate to among the best LPs of 2017. Get on the PUMAROSA train now because it is rapidly gaining speed and guaranteed to be filled to capacity very soon. Its destination – super-stardom.

The Witch is available now via Harvest Records (US) and Fiction Records (world). PUMAROSA are Isabel Munoz-Newsome, Henry Brown, Tomoya Suzuki, Jamie Neville, and Nicholas Owen.

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2 Comments

  1. Your detailed, careful and perceptive review is a true delight -admittedly I’m bias- and I hope the band has read it. I’ll certainly show it to Isabel. I’m her dad. So it is with authority that I can correct you in one small point: she is not a Spaniard. Because of me she is half Chilean. They are such fine artists, have worked so hard and consistently, this week’s appearance at Jules Holland’s was long overdue. Thank you, Ben, you clearly dig what they’re about and love it as much as I do.

  2. Newo Knee

    What an incisive and well written review from Ben @ Revue – Thanks. The band also includes Jamie Neville (Guitar) and together they also have the ability to reproduce their sound in their live performances – not just in the studio – they are the real thing.

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