It’s hard to know where to start with Seven, the debut 7” single by Austin, Texas-based trio The Well. The band self-released the two-track outing, featuring the songs “Act II” and “Trespass,” at the end of September in a limited marble-vinyl edition of 300, and coupled the record with a variety of artworks in what they called a “rip-off series,” with hand-drawn sketches from Casey Cork and bassist/vocalist Lisa Alley reinterpreting album art from Electric Wizard, Wicked Lady (the one I got, hence the flapper above), Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer to suit their own purposes, as well as some with an original design. Musically, I suppose The Well do pretty much the same thing. Having formed in 2010, the band are pretty clearly getting their bearings in terms of their development, but they already have a firm grip on their aesthetic, taking new (nouveau?) American laidbackitude and melding it with simple grooving riffs, obscure but catchy lyrics and an echoing sense of open space. Seven doesn’t really find The Well coming out of the gate with anything that’s never been done before, but it works no less well for them in 2012 than it did for Lords of the North in 2008, and the oft-concurrent dual vocals of Alley and guitarist Ian Graham are an immediate distinguishing factor on “Act II,” which rolls in casual-like on a stonerly bounce from drummer Jason Sullivan and nod-ready bassline from Alley. Graham offers crunch in his rhythm tone and classic fuzz for the bluesy lead he takes near the halfway point, and when the song breaks following the next verse into a post-Vitus noisefest, the effect is jarring in probably the best way it could be. Alley’s bass and Sullivan’s drums keep going while the guitar drops out and Graham and Alley – whose voices already prove impeccably matched – take the fore and make a viable hook out of the lines “Twisting ropes and needle pokes can’t harm me/Pious minds can’t understand what charms me,” and lock into wah-driven shuffle for what seems like it will be the instrumental outro until they pull back for one last run through the chorus, well timed and crisply executed on the live-sounding recording, helmed by Jason Morales of Austin heavy psych improvisators Tia Carrera.
Such moves make it easy to get into both songs on Seven, accessible in a totally non-commercialized but still traditional sense of pop songwriting. “Trespass,” which is more explicitly led by Graham’s guitar, shorter by just over a full minute and overall thicker in its chug, is no less catchy. Graham opens with a wash of Hendrix wah and is joined in time by Alley and Sullivan for another solid mid-paced groover, Sullivan’s fills telegraphing the transitions but not detracting from them. After the intro, which takes up 50 seconds of the total 4:43, “Trespass” follows a much simpler structure than did “Act II,” but the vocals tap into that same lysergic drawl that made the first Witch album so irresistible and a double-layered solo from Sullivan provides a point of interest leading into the build of the bridge, even if the song is clearly a B-side. As they did with “Act II,” they pull back to the central groove just when it seems like they’ve gone too far out to recover, and they end Seven with a return to the chorus, giving a final nod to the potential in their craft before the guitar clicks off and the release is over. The Well have reportedly already returned to the studio to record a full-length, this time with Mark Deutrom (who played bass in the Melvins during their Atlantic years), and their commitment to aligning themselves to producers with experience in heavy rock speaks to a professional mindset as much as any last chorus speaks to a quality of craft, so while Seven is the first time The Well have made their presence known, it seems unlikely it will be the last. All the better. Both “Act II” and “Trespass” give an impression of a trio taking off on a creative trip. Their efficiency on a musical level and their penchant for strong hooks can only serve them well as they continue to develop, and whatever they do next, I’ll be interested to hear what other tricks they might have up their collective sleeve in terms of changing up their approach or adding diversity to their sound or even just establishing a flow over the course of a debut LP. For now, though, Seven makes a welcome introduction.