While the fall of witch house began around 2010, a mere year after the term caught fire, there are still worthwhile projects coming out of that online black hole. Boston’s BATHAUS released a debut cassette entitled ARCANE|||CUT for Austin’s nascent indie imprint Haute Magie last month, and the 9-track collection walks the tightrope between good and evil, a departure from the traditional witch house blue print.
Clocking in at just under 50 minutes, ARCANE|||CUT does not waste any time. Ashley Capachione (a.k.a. BATHAUS) starts the album with haunting male choir-referencing pads and a dizzying vocal sample in “Vesper Sparrow” that together strike as open and honest. The vibes here are truly uplifting and invite the listener to pledge their patriotism for the sound. “The Vanishing” featured muffled vocals and indistinguishable rambling, yet because of the chopped pop vocal samples, it feels comfortably familiar. The vocals are left vague enough to appear relevant to any listener’s personal life, but by the time you’ve wrapped your head around that, all parts of the song drop off, leaving you with nothing but a hypnotic, militant beat.
“Grey Chant” is straightforwardly witch house, and its busy beat structures, piercing synths, and rumbling bassline make it immensely enjoyable. Capachione tests out near trap-like rhythms deeper into the album, indeed, “Reading Lips” seems to exist on the border between witch house and trap. Disappointingly, the production of the tune falls flat and sounds as though it was left on autopilot, leaving the listener to grapple with looped fragments and misplaced synth stabs.
While Capachione uses the same vocabulary of sounds and techniques that have been passed down from outfits like oOoOO, BL/\CK CEILING, and even Shlohmo, she distinguishes her sound by adding new flair in the details. In “The Magician,” Capachione scatters unique and satisfying details that are all her own. The clear overtones are at once warm and haunting; the midrange synths are not only fuzzy, but also scary; the hip-hop oriented beat is familiar yet fresh.
“DAME” serves as the album’s dance floor-ready anthem with its booming 4/4 rhythms. “Ancient Real,” the darkest cut off the album, features terrifying vocals that hit the gas toward the end and spiral out of control. “XXX” seems cute enough on the surface with its toy-like instrumentation and rather straight beat, yet it is a wolf in sheep’s skin. How many of those notes are sharp? How many dissonant chords are struck, and at what point did the beat shift from harmless to violent? ARCANE|||CUT ends with “Exodus for the Seasick,” a venture into demonic ambient that offers a surprising amount of closure to the album.