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Wicked Witch - Chaos: 1978-86

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Artist: Wicked Witch

Album: Chaos: 1978-86

Label: EM

Review date: Jan. 14, 2009

D.C.’s Wicked Witch was essentially one Richard Simms, the leather-garbed fellow on the album cover. Simms supplied the rubbery bass and the wildly erratic vocal stylings, and at least three of these seven tracks are his work exclusively. On this succinct teaser of an anthology, Simms emerges not just as an eclectic, overlooked eccentric, but as an extraordinary seer, a brand-of-one crackpot who updated disco, P-Funk and Sun Ra, and somehow anticipated everything from Prince to Chrome to Ariel Pink. Wicked Witch might’ve been a missing link, had anyone heard this stuff.

WW’s default mode is ramshackle, adults-only electro funk. The guitar lays a thick foundation of sludge and occasionally busts out Hendrix acrobatics (most notably on “Fancy Dancer”). The thin, squelchy synths produce a head-spinning muddle of special effects. The vox range from an inscrutable falsetto (“Rated X,” the most obvious Controversy soundalike) to an off-kilter R&B wail (“Electric War”) to submerged whooping and hollering (the peculiar, hypnotic “Erratic Behaviour”) to declarative incantations (the violin-laced “Vera’s Back,” the album’s earliest cut, which resembles nothing so much as an extended meditation on the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” as sifted through Yes’s “Heart of the Sunrise.”)

To varying degrees, the production sounds muffled, wobbly, aquatic… which may bespeak nothing more than technical limitations, but which does enhance Wicked Witch’s otherworldly aura. As openly referential as it can be, the Witch seems to exist in some decadent ether outside any recognized decade or community. No sooner has Simms picked up a funk or rock convention than he’s warped it considerably, occasionally (on “Erratic Behaviour”) to the point where it hardly sounds like pop at all. It’s tempting to contemplate the hedonistic psych-funk avant-garde he might’ve spearheaded, under different aspects.

Chaos is all the more fascinating for its apparent stinginess. One track is an “instrumental version” of another. Another is a “remix” of another. The disc wraps up after a scant 40 minutes. The vinyl version boasts a slightly different track list, including two remixes and an exclusive. The packaging provides little in the way of history. Maybe this was all that remains of Wicked Witch. (From the sound of it, salvaging this material alone was a big-enough ass-pain.) But it’s easier to imagine it as the tip of one weird iceberg.

By Emerson Dameron

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