Esben And The Witch – Violet Cries

For anyone not familiar with the story of Esben And The Witch, that is, the Danish fairytale this Brighton trio are named after, it’s the story of a boy called Esben who ‘proves himself’ to the king by bringing him a list of items he requests, you know, gold and silver doves, talking blankets, lights that ‘shine over seven kingdoms’, everyday stuff. All of which, coincidentally, happens to be located in the same witch’s kitchen – handy! Anyway, a couple of oven related deaths later, and they all lived happily ever after. A fitting namesake for a goth/shoe-gaze hybrid band, no?

Formed in 2008, and signed to home-of-Belle & Sebastian, Matador records, Esben and the Witch have been making quite a name for themselves, earning a nomination for BBC’s Sound of 2011 after touring with the xx, Warpaint, and Oxford’s own Foals.

Violet Cries is what you’d get if Florence Welsh got up one day and, after reading a bit of Edgar Allen Poe, and listening to some Marble Index-era Nico, decided to find herself a band and make some good music. Certainly, front woman Rachel Davies’ voice has all the intensity of Florence’s, but she utilizes it much more effectively, varying the texture, making use of reverb and echoes, and often employing her vocals as another instrument rather than the focal point of the song, to great effect.

Opener ‘Argyria’ builds up layer by layer into a veritable mass of haunting sound, akin to walking through a graveyard, being gradually enveloped by the surrounding fog. Indeed, throughout Violet Cries, you are presented with a horde of macabre, ethereal imagery that lingers on long after you’ve stopped listening. First single, ‘Marching Song’ evokes an eerie sense of familiarity, although this could just be the uncanny similarity to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s ‘Love Burns’.

However, once you’ve got over the disconcerting nature of it all, there isn’t much variation in Violet Cries, in terms of its tone and style. Maybe it’s because of the way it vehemently sucks you in while you’re listening, but by the end you come out the other side feeling like you’ve been listening a lot longer than you have, and it’s kind of draining.

Reverb heavy, and undeniably chilling, Violet Cries would make the perfect soundtrack to a horror film (in fact, the music is scary enough for said-film to get away without a discernable plot) but the casual listener may find it a bit hard going. Nonetheless, it’s an incredibly original debut, and definitely worth a listen.

Label: Matador Records