January 12, 2011

Album Review: Esben and the Witch's Violet Cries

As the Danish fairytale "Esben and the Witch" goes, a young boy named Esben literally saves his 11 older brothers necks from a gruesome death by the hands of a crafty old hag and later on, execution from a jealous knight attempting to remove any potential rivals falling in favor with their king. Luckily, all ends well for the protagonist in this grim story but the background context is telling of a band who has taken the title as its namesake. Esben and the Witch are the latest in a slew of young bands darkening the music world with a new wave of goth spirit. Unlike the genre's critical darlings such as Zola Jesus, The xx and Warpaint, their debut Violet Cries isn't filled with so much pop magic as it is a scary snowstorm of sound.

The most remarkable thing to be said about Violet Cries is that Esben and the Witch's cold and haunting debut is quite complex and demanding -- an expectation many publications building early buzz on the UK trio didn't get the memo on. Instead of direct and accessible tracks, Esben and the Witch opt to intricately layer agonizing echoes inside of droning guitars, electronic drums and so much silence. Album opener, "Argyria," alongside "Light Streams" and "Euminedes" begin softly but quickly run away from themselves in Rachel Davies' powerfully graceful voice, swirling around a soundtrack of utter despair. It's a consistent observation on Violet Cries, as Davies sings in such a majestically entrancing manner but rarely utilizes her voice in a way that could be construed as melodic. When her voice is not at the forefront, bandmates Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher fill the dead space with crashing cymbals, bursts of static and nimble percussion.

This style of petrified noise comes without notice, but essentially is what gives Violet Cries its distinct character. "Hexagons IV", "Chorea" and "Warpath" make the most out of this musical direction (Ironically, they're also the album's most cohesive moments) and in turn, disprove the going popular assessment that Esben and the Witch are yet another goth pop band among a sea of many. While a great faction of the scene's new wave explores the glittery side of goth, Esbon and the Witch are secluded far away in its cold, wintry shadows. Violet Cries doesn't jump out in the immediate sense but if played in the right mindset, the promising debut can just as well worm its way inside you and fester its unknown pleasures.

Esben and the Witch's Violet Cries will be released February 8, 2010 on Matador Records.

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