Kristian Bell, best known for providing distinctive lead vocals and guitar for his grungy/psychedelic band The Wytches, has released his first solo album, entitled Backfire on the band’s own label Cable Code Records. Since the release of The Wytches’ debut album Annabel Dream Reader in 2014, the band have been consistently working with a DIY ethic that bleeds into their music perfectly, making it feel all the more genuine. The three albums and handful of EPs that the band have released since their formation have demonstrated Bell’s ability to perform with a raw and deranged sounding intensity, whilst at times retaining a strong tenderness and delicacy, the latter informing Bell’s debut.
In 2019 Bell and fellow bandmate Mark Breed released Stereo Buzz, under the aptly named Mark and Kristian Band, which took a distinctly softer approach than the sound of The Wytches, often weaving between slow, drawn-out psychedelic guitars and sprinklings of humour in the lyrics (for example “Smoke it to the Roach”). Sonically, Bell’s solo album is more reminiscent of this project, yet retains its own sense of individuality and maturity, showing drastic lyrical growth from the early days of The Wytches.
Album opener and lead single “That’s A Lovely Thing” is reminiscent of nostalgic 90s rock, seeping with a homemade sensitivity and warmth. The guitar tones paired with jolting drums combine perfectly to accompany Bell’s voice, which is well-suited to the overarching sentimental atmosphere. Another standout track is “Backfire”, which often feels like a deranged-sounding Foxygen track. Bell takes an approach that harks back to Annabel Dream Reader, allowing his voice to mutate and move through the track with little regard to sounding polished. This grunginess is equally addictive and mesmerising to listen to.
The album weaves through these moments of intensity with relaxed, melancholic tracks that feel like a musical representation of the days slowing down and drawing in at 4pm; Bell could not have chosen a better time to release the album. Tracks like “Have to Ask” and “Walking Song” demonstrate Bell’s ability to sing in an effortlessly higher and gentle pitch, accompanied by slow and strategic guitars. The textural palette of “Walking Song” is so intricately crafted alongside the sadness of Kristian’s voice, which makes it another memorable moment on Backfire.
The album could have benefitted from more songs with the same intensity of “Backfire” as opposed to the majority of the tracks having a similar tempo, which leaves the album feeling slightly stagnant in the middle. But fear not, the album picks itself up quickly, with “Spotlight” echoing the guitars of Mazzy Star, and the unforgettable “Dog in the Ditch” demonstrating rich albeit lugubrious story-telling.
Bell combines the melancholy sounds of influences such as Elliott Smith and Big Star with the trademark gothic undertones that are ever-present in all of his work. From Annabel Dream Reader to Backfire, Bell has proved himself as one of the most genuine and hard-working musicians in the industry, consistently putting out work that feels truly authentic. Backfire is an overall strong debut album from Kristian Bell, and more solo work is highly anticipated.
Listen to the album below!