Esben and the Witch
(Out Now)Rating: 4/5
Right, I thought I'd pitch my proverbial pen in over this once since there seems to be quite divided opinion about this album. David Edwards' splendidly over-the-top review over on Drowned in Sound got panned by a bunch of spoilsport, joy hating wankers, while a number of my friends into this kind of thing have denounced it as everything from simply pretentious to "dirgelike". It would however seem that my critic friends are with me though, as Simon's brill Quietus feature suggests. Now, at the risk of using Chaucerian tactics to justify my own review, I'll quickly say that theirs didn't influence mine, really; I've been a fan of this band since 33 and since I got a copy of the Marching Song EP on wax when they played Deaf Institute last year.
Now, we know that they're an incredible band live, but does this translate across to their debut, Violet Cries? Well, yes and no, actually. I have the album on vinyl, and consequently have to play about with the levels on my hi-fi when I want to play it. Turned up to 11, it's spectacular, with the droning, evil 'Marching Song' coiling its way out into my room, and washes of percussion and interwoven guitar lines from 'Warpath' lapping up against my door. Get it up on my laptop so that I can multi-task and let it run, and... hm. I'm not sure if it's a mastering problem or what, but the sparser tracks like 'Marine Fields Glow' and 'Light Streams' just don't really catch the attention. Yes, I am a vinyl fan, but I am not a vinyl fascist; most of my music collection is on CD and, for instance, I bought the most recent SVIIB album on CD instead of wax because I didn't want to experience a loss in sound quality from playing it as many times as I anticipated. Furthermore, regular readers may recall me defending CD against vinyl when talking to Steven Wilson from Porcupine Tree. As a result, I'm really perplexed by this one.
Turning back to actual songs, 'Hexagons IV' is probably the best single track, with proceedings taking a rather Massive Attack-esque trip hop turn that's a welcome counterpoint to the pair of more ethereal songs that preceded it; 'Chorea' follows, offering a pallette of dissonance and vocal howls that segue very nicely into 'Warpath'. On 'Eumenides' the record finally peaks, finally breaking out into the drum-freakout that was always threatened (but hitherto avoided); 'Swans' is more of an extended fade than a closing track to my mind.
All in all, it's an incredible debut, especially given that despite the so-called 'nu gaze' revival it still sounds so fresh. Don't get me wrong, it's a dark and sinister listen, doesn't make any compromises, and certainly never changes mood.... but that's no bad thing. This is a fucking great record; if you want to be truly terrified then catch them live.