We may well be entering the winter of Esben And The Witch. Theirs is the name on the lips of every self-respecting music industry expert, and the hype is building to a crescendo. The witch-house trio been kicking around since 2009, but this summer has been monumental for them, after an acclaimed debut at Latitude and the exciting news in August that they’d signed to Matador. With an album set for release early in 2011 and a world tour ready to fly, the pertinent question is whether they can live up to expectations. Judging from this EP, they’re well on their way to doing so.
Named after a morbid Danish fairy tale, theirs is a stark, often nightmarish musical canvas, coloured with dark, echoing minimalism and often-violent lyrical overtones. It is also, in a word, beautiful.
The lyrics (when audible above the roaring instrumentals) are pure poetry. Marching Song begins with an evocative, scene-setting couplet, delivered in the other-worldly voice of Rachel Davies: “In a wilderness of foggy thoughts/Battling with your mind’s retorts.” Drums trudge through a feedback-filled murmur that grows into a ghostly howl. The texture is uncluttered, yet swirls around like a gathering storm.
Visitors to their website are (at the time of writing) greeted with the simple yet stunning music video. Directed by David Procter and Peter King, it captures the mood of this simmering track perfectly. Alternating headshots of the band become increasingly bloodied, the growing clamour of guitar matched by a deepening red tinge to the camera. The abrupt ending just adds to the drama.
Done Because We Are Too Menny opens with an echoing whistle which runs a real risk of slipping into the theme from The X Files. Mercifully, it builds instead into an eerie minimalism. Trapped in a twisted, almost surreal haze of threatening feedback and echoing chant, the listener is left feeling disorientated and questioning their sanity. The power of this music is its understated madness – somewhere something is a little unhinged, and it’s disturbingly beautiful.
In the epic final track, Souvenirs, stringy synths and reversed cymbal sweeps coalesce over an insistent, shuffling drum beat. At nine minutes long, it’s almost overly repetitive and tiresome, but doesn’t quite cross the threshold, staying on the side of gradual atmospheric progression. The mix is cut through by striking vocal chords as haunting as they are piercing, growing increasingly tortured. Eventually the EP is set to rest on a single resonant guitar line, and a moment of reflective silence is genuinely needed before resuming life outside the song.
This is a formidable release, with all the drama of standing on a rocky cliff watching a tempest approach. What variety of material will come from so striking a starting formula remains to be seen. The tracks on this EP don’t sound like three standalone songs so much as three parts of the same musical project, three aspects of the whole with little to define them individually. Yet listening to some of their other material (more upbeat Skeleton Swoon strikes a pleasing contrast), repetitiveness is unlikely to be a problem. Do believe the hype; this is breathtaking music that will catch you off guard.