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Album Review: The Witch (2017) by Pumarosa

Pumarosa is a band I’ve been watching for a while, waiting almost vulture-like for them to drop an album. The Witch delivers on what I hoped their debut would be; featuring long atmospheric tracks, like their incredible debut single ‘Priestess’, as well as showing the band experimenting further with the sound shown on their early singles and EP. Basically it’s a great album filled with great tracks.

‘Dragonfly’, the opener is a smooth yet almost anthemic track, building slowly around a great metaphor. It’s not my favourite song on the album, but it makes for a great introduction to Pumarosa’s sound – described by the band as ‘Industrial Spiritual’. It bounces between delicate and roaring, led by singer Isabel’s incredibly captivating voice. The slow build used on ‘Dragonfly’ is a template for many of the songs on The Witch, and that’s not really a bad thing. ‘Priestess’ is the best example of this. When a song that’s seven and a half minutes long feels like a lot, lot less, you know the band are doing something right. Building from a humming synth and a repeated bass note, the track grows into one of the most danceable – and chantable – songs I’ve heard in a long time. It’s masterfully suspenseful, building up the audience’s anticipation before paying off tremendously.

While ‘Priestess’ is easily the album’s centrepiece, there are some other great long songs on here as well. The title track has a similar spiritual, almost tribal vibe, with Isabel singing of her ‘monkey hands’ and ‘building a fire’. The lyrics, I think, hold the song back slightly – being generally quite weak – but Isabel’s delivery of them helps it remain compelling. It definitely helps when a lead singer puts enthusiasm and personality into every word, and she does just that. ‘Lions’ Den’ is an even better track, putting even more emphasis on Isabel’s voice. The song starts off slow and stripped back, before exploding into a wall of sound around halfway through. However, it’s singer’s bitter, angry vocal delivery that makes the song so damn compelling.

Among these long, typically Pumarosa songs, there are also a few shorter tracks that show the band try on a few different styles. ‘Honey’ is a gloriously anthemic song about consumerism and global warming, chanting about how pointless so many of things we’re invested in are: ‘Events come and go / Like the waves of a fever’. Another favourite of mine on the album is ‘Barefoot’, which is perhaps the most stripped back the band gets, being built around a guitar and a punchy drum machine beat. Isabel’s Kate Bush-like delivery is again a large part of what makes this song so enjoyable, with her crooning vocals making it easy to connect with the story she’ll telling.

If there’s one noticeable dip on the album, it comes at the end. The last two tracks, ‘Hollywood’ and ‘Snake’, while not bad, are really just fine in my eyes. ‘Snake’ in particular is underwhelming as a closer, lacking the energy that so many of The Witch‘s best tracks do. And, unlike ‘Priestess’ or ‘Lions’ Den’, it feels unnecessarily long. It’s as though the band were aiming for a grand finish but missed the mark. Despite this blip, I highly recommend taking a look at this album. These last couple of songs aren’t bad – it’s more that the high quality of the rest of the album makes them look so. There’s a lot to love here.

Best Tracks: ‘Priestess’, ‘Lions’ Den’, ‘Barefoot’.

Review: Pumarosa the Louisiana, Bristol (27/10/2016)

Though they’ve only released a few songs, Pumarosa is a band that feels fullyl formed. Over their three singles, from the epic ‘Priestess’ to the politically driven ‘Honey’, they’ve covered a range of styles, but they all feature the band’s unique voice. I can’t think of an album I’m more excited about at the moment than their upcoming debut.

I’ve never been to the Louisiana before, and I was kind of surprised by how small and humble the place was. The music venue part of it is pretty much just an attic room. It was a change from the big name venues I’ve been to in Bristol – like the O2, the Marble Factory and Colston Hall – but not in a bad way. Though the performance room could only hold a small fraction of the people the O2 could, it made the gig feel so much more intimate. It felt like the line between the audience and the band was more blurred than it would be in a big venue (heck, some of Pumarosa’s members were even stood next to me during the support act.)

And man, were the support act great. I’d never listened to or heard of Peluché before the gig, and I ended up being pretty blown away by their performance. It’s hard to really describe their style of music – their songs have a sort of dreamy feel to them, and often go off on long jazzy instrumental tangents. Though I normally find myself itching to see the headliner when I go to gigs, I did find myself wishing that Peluché’s set could have been just a few songs longer…

When Pumarosa finally took the stage, they didn’t go for a big flashy entrance – they just set up their instruments and started playing. All emphasis was put on the music, which was pretty refreshing.

Lead singer Isabel quickly grabbed the audience’s attention, as the band kicked off their set with ‘Dragonfly’. The combination of her powerful voice and very Kate Bush-esque dance moves made for a pretty fantastic performance. The opening song was followed up by two tunes very familiar to Pumarosa fans – the band’s two latest singles: ‘Cecile’ and ‘Honey’. Both songs sounded fantastic live, ‘Honey’ especially.

The bulk of the set after this was made up of less familiar songs, with ‘Lion’s Den’ being another highlight. Almost all focus was put on Isabel’s voice until the last few moments, when the band exploded into sound. Isabel even took to playing her guitar like a violin by using a drumstick (yes, you read that right.)

The best moment of the set was saved till towards the end. ‘Priestess’, arguably the band’s best song, sounded absolutely amazing live. The eight-minute-long song felt like a journey, and the dancing from the audience – as well as the band – showed that nobody really wanted it to end. As great as the rest of the set was, ‘Priestess’ was just Pumarosa at their peak. Though there have been many gigs I’ve enjoyed this year, I wouldn’t say any of them reached the same heights as the performance of that song.

If you get the chance to see Pumarosa live, do it. I’m pretty certain the band is going to get huge soon, and it’d be silly not to go see them at an intimate venue like the Louisiana while you still can.