Monday, 24 January 2011

Esben And The Witch - Violet Cries (Matador)

There certainly is a great deal of pressure weighing on the six shoulders of Esben And The Witch. Having emerged from relative obscurity at the turn of the year, the Brightonian three-piece find themselves, on the eve of 2011, ranked among Matador Records' prestigious roll-call, with only their upcoming release to silence the sceptics. Of course, those who have been following the band's heady ascent will know that such a challenge lies in capable hands – due in no small part to the band's strict and self-assured allegiance to a unique aesthetic. Violet Cries realises all the startling ambition of the band's preliminary releases, combining their by-now-signature predilections for moody, gothic ambience, psychedelia and melancholia in a truly accomplished creation.

Every track on Violet Cries is exquisitely constructed, carefully crafted to create at times a sense of unnerving agitation, at others mournful poignancy – but always building on the overwhelming, almost ineffable atmosphere of the album: a kind of somnambulistic malevolence. Attempts have been made to liken Esben And The Witch to other acts like Bat For Lashes or Portishead, but while – granted – vocalist Rachael Davies does sing a little bit like Florence Welch in a K-hole, and the beginning of the song Marine Fields Glow does evoke that other female-fronted three-piece from a town beginning with B, Violet Cries proves, to me at least, that its creators really are a peerless act. That aforementioned track, for example, uses those Beth Gibbons-esque vocals to original effect, adding reverb to merge it with the tidal rise and fall of the musical accompaniment, creating a song that is much more subtle, gradual and elemental than a Portishead track.

Album highlights like the captivating Light Streams prove that Esben And The Witch can be more experimental when they want to, however. Starting out quite conventionally, the track goes on to incorporate a hypnotic prog interlude and a chorus of chants and wails complete with kitschy Ghostbusters-style warped scary voices. Not many bands could pull of a refrain like “We will cut the sun from its moorings!” without sounding like they're taking themselves far too seriously, but in the surreal, slightly foggy parallel universe of Violet Cries, it works, and even unsettles. Elsewhere, on tracks like Chorea, which contains quite an up-beat riff, and Eumenides, which plays out to a trance beat, the band pass that all important test, proving that while they're not one-trick-ponies, they're also adept at putting their own original spin on whatever style they turn their hand to.

Violet Cries really is an exceptional album: measured, mesmerizing, and (when you can hear the lyrics behind the reverb) profound. I know it's only January, but I'm certain we've found one of the stand-out albums of 2011.

Words : Tegan Rogers

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