wych elm's EP Rabbit Wench clocks in at fourteen minutes across seven songs, a statement of intent and what the band are about, very short, exceptionally sharp shocks to the solar plexus whilst lyrically it’s equally direct, powerful and abrasive.
The EP opens with recent single Executioner where Caitlin’s lyrics explore how emotional abuse takes its toll on the victim and turns them on themselves - “be merciful to me, I am the sinner runt of the litter” and “i am a whore” expressing the depths to which someone plunges in that situation.
Scolds Bridle resides in similar territory - “put me in an iron muzzle, I won’t move, I won’t struggle” - a kick back against the way Caitlin has been silenced by men. The brevity of the track and the explicit descriptions might shock on first listen but music should not be afraid to challenge and make the listener feel uncomfortable and Rabbit Wench does just that.
Brute sees the tables being turned, Caitlin proudly declaring “I grew, I grew, I grew”, the repetition of “you’re a brute, a piece of work” feels like a flurry of blows to the head, the words often dropping under the guitar riffs that run through the song before it grinds to a shuddering dead stop.
Wench feels like an exorcism of more demons across eighty-five seconds, taking aim at a man demanding Caitlin’s whole attention when it suits him and his desires - “you shouted wench and I came running.”
Bear Trap delves deeper into another human emotion - “do you have a burden you want me to carry, I can’t feel the weight on my shoulders any more” - the way in which we lose ourselves in unrequited love, oblivious to the other’s indifference. References to corpses make it feel even more visceral and striking in terms of describing the impact.
The sense of worthlessness, of the despair you can sink into, continues on Feed Me - “feed me bones and roadkill, I’ll come back for more and you know I will” with the imagery once again stark and brutal “hit me with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire” before the four of them come together for the final chorus, the combination of voices making it even more haunting and threatening. “I’m mad, I’m rabid, it hurts, do your worst, I’m ravaged” opening final track Rabbit ensures there’s no respite for the last hundred seconds of the EP.
It’s perhaps as well given the often violent and uncompromising imagery of the lyrics that the EP doesn’t break the fifteen minute barrier as Rabbit Wench will be one of the hardest listens if you pay it the attention it warrants. The music will draw you in, sparse one second, claustrophobic and cloying the next, unpredictable enough to ensure your undivided attention as to where it goes next or whether it’ll suddenly come to a crashing halt. It reminds us in many respects of Pixies Come On Pilgrim, a set of songs that felt so out of place with everything around it yet more powerful for that. Many of the deep-rooted issues around gender inequality and the one-sided power games between the sexes are investigated here in a way that’s so explicit that it will make the listener feel horribly uncomfortable. But these are uncomfortable subjects that require difficult conversations and actions - and wych elm tackle them full on in this brave and devastating record.
They play Bristol Dot To Dot (September 25), Nottingham Dot To Dot (26), Nottingham Bodega (October 6), Glasgow Stereo (10), Edinburgh Sneaky Pete's (11), Stockton Georgian Theatre (12), Leeds Brudenell Social (13), Brighton Beach (November 4), London Dalston Victoria (December 1) and Bristol Louisiana (December 18).