The Crunk Witch that they are
Down from the County: Heartbeats in Hyperspace
Three albums in, Crunk Witch are now far more than novelty. The all-digital, husband-wife duo of Brandon Miles and Hannah Collen have created enough material at this point to establish a clear method behind what can sometimes seem like madness.
With the brand-new Heartbeats in Hyperspace, it’s like they’ve put together a top-drawer session band, but everyone’s playing through pedals that turn guitar chords into buzzing digitization, snares into sizzling fuzzbombs, horns into distended whirls. The songs are big radio rock tunes, sometimes more like Broadway bits, but with a space-aged bent that makes everything disorienting.
This is thanks to a bit of open-source programming software called Buzz, which is worth investigating if you’re the type to crush time on Reddit and install your own Linux server. Producer James Holden seems to be one of its bigger proponents, along with bands like Australia’s Hunz, who maybe sound a bit like Crunk Witch. Basically, you play something like a keyboard or an MPC, and then can route the sound through any number of virtual machines to create the sound you’re looking for (which may or may not wind up sounding like an “instrument”).
What station is this? Did you slip me something? Why is Freddie Mercury wearing that astronaut suit?
That’s “Moonbase Blues” for you, taking classic rock and making it science fiction. It opens just like the Bay State’s “Winter Mitts,” but replaces that elegant viola with a keyboard line that’s as inorganic as the vacuum of space. Yet Miles as lead singer is just dripping with drama: “I’m a cowboy / I live to fly in the sun. / I ride the light-years / Until I come undone.”
There’s certainly some David Bowie doing his Major Tom schtick, but it all seems less faux-futuristic here. This isn’t a put on. It’s desperate wishcasting. What could be better than a space-based love affair?
Well, maybe the love affair of Collen and Miles all by itself. Really, they’re quite precious. The opening “Start of It All,” details the union nicely. “It all started on MySpace,” the story goes, and the result is “the Crunk Witch that we are.” Portions of the song are straight-up Headstart! (or how they sound on “Monday,” anyway), infused with 8-bit Casio sounds and thrumming back beat.
And “Whirlwind” is as big a classic rock love song as you’re going to hear nowadays. With all the hallmarks of your standard ‘60s pop number, we hear how “you’re my little whirlwind” (echoes of Del Shannon doing “you’re my little runaway,” for sure) and the pull back for the verse could replace the repeating buzz with a delicate acoustic guitar without skipping a beat.
But all is not pop, here. Crunk Witch haven’t forsaken their hardcore and screamo roots. “Kill the Cartridge” is straight-up metal in the open, but the video game synths do mute the effect. It’s like playing Mario Kart with all the characters wearing black trenchcoats. Princess Peach has a lip ring and is wearing a ton of eyeliner. On the other end of the spectrum, “Clash of the Droids” is aptly named, like a disco dance contest amongst C-3PO’s contemporaries, with some Daft Punk in its low end and a Devo vibe to the chorus. Crunk Witch are dramatic in all the right ways. Silly and sincere and wholly invested.
Ultimately, though, they live to entertain, and that comes through most clearly in the excellent “Sugar Rush,” which is crazy catchy and infused with the same kind of energy that Chubby Checker used to get all those kids twisting: “I’m gonna cannonball for you/ Drop it down and make it wet.” Miles is definitely at his best here, vampy and quirky, but not over the top.
Crunk Witch walk a fine line. What they do is so bright and in your face—like unicorns shooting rainbows out every orifice—that it can all be too much sometimes. Of course, it can also be that you can’t get enough.