Wicca Phase Springs Eternal – ‘Wicca Phase Springs Eternal’

By Alex Sarychkin

When Adam McIlwee announces a Run For Cover records Wicca Phase Springs Eternal album, it is a statement of intent. This is not a mixtape, like 2022’s ‘Full Moon Mystery Garden’, nor is this a split with a wildly contrasting artist, a foray into an adjacent genre or simply a single. Look back to 2019’s near-perfect ‘Suffer On’ for a reminder of what an album for the ever pivoting project of the ex-Tigers Jaw man can be. It was a curious melding of all the work he had produced up to that point – a little bit ‘Secret Boy’, a touch of ‘Corinthiax’, still laced with visions of portals, ghosts and sigils. The latter remains on Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, a sprawling, twelve track odyssey with moments that take from the full oeuvre to create a crystal clear distillation of his sound thus far.

Opener ‘Wicca Phase Springs Eternal’ sees McIlwee spilt the track into three, each part reflecting his purpose – to run far into the vortex of sound, to push what is simplistically known as ‘emo-rap’ into something more complex. Hidden somewhere in the back of the mix, McIlwee sings “Come on, come on, come on, let me in, let me in, let me in”, throwing back (not for the first time) to ‘Slow Come On’, from Tigers Jaw’s ‘Charmer’, his final appearance with the band that made his name. It’s a clever touch – a further chapter in the world building that has been taking place since the early Bandcamp releases of ‘#HELLVERSION’. This is music in the era of TV Easter Eggs, callbacks, reappearing characters and cross-text references. It’s not too crass to imply that the WPEU (Wicca Phase Extended Universe) is as important to fans as the music itself. It adds another layer to the engagement – the constant hope of a callback to a lyrical phrase maintains the connection with the past, and the past is a constant theme in Wicca’s music.

From the opener, the album moves itself through shades of sounds. ‘Moving Without Movement’, the album’s first single, is a highlight who’s musical influence seems rooted in the 1980’s. The soft-washed synths that soar over the chorus wouldn’t be out of place on a New Order record; another band who’s history followed them throughout their career. On ‘It’s Getting Dark’, McIlwee strips away the palette, and sits alone on the track with just an acoustic guitar. This is how we’ve often been fed early versions of songs in his career – sat on a park bench as traffic passes by, or alone on stage before a small and reverent crowd. It’s as good as the very best off of ‘Raw and Declawed’, the 2017 acoustic EP that reminded fans that when he wanted to, he could still make it make sense on the guitar alone.

Less can be said for ‘Mystery I’m Tied To You’, where an attempt at similar intimacy, alongside Zola Jesus, falls vocally flat. The album rises when it pushes itself sonically. On the bouncing ‘One Silhouette’, the emotion stands front and centre, whilst the kicks power through. It’s dance music for those who don’t wish to be seen – a club anthem for the coping.

If the albums that Wicca Phase calls albums are meant to stand out in his discography as something separate from the regular stream of music he releases in between, then ‘Wicca Phase Springs Eternal’ should be seen as the time it all came together. You have here twelve songs, clearly placed in a certain order, designed to carry the listener through the various experiences of the Wicca Phase fan. They are simultaneously in the back of the club, blacked out, screaming Wicca Phase, whilst at home alone with their cats looking mournfully from the window. The album cover features McIlwee on an imposing horse, staring down from the camera lens, into the ground below. For generations, horses have carried man from town to town. On his self-titled record, McIlwee carries you through his personal vision of what his music can be – he and the horse have become one, and we ride delicately upon its back.

ALEX SARYCHKIN

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