The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Esben And The Witch
A New Nature Andy Von Pip , September 12th, 2014 13:49

At the tail end of 2010, nestled amongst the annual assemblage of tepid mediocrity that is the "BBC Sound Of" list, you may have spotted Brighton trio Esben And The Witch. Having previously generated a modest amount of blog buzz they were a dark glittering gem amongst this perennially depressing selection of fame hungry, industry approved quislings and rapacious, artistically compromised wannabes.

It is difficult to gauge what effect, if any, appearing on such an insipid list had on Esben And The Witch's development. They've since continued to forge their own artistic path with a refreshing indifference toward transient musical fads and scant regard for empty zeitgeist chasing. They've released two critically acclaimed albums, gained a reputation as formidable live act, and, after an amicable parting of the ways from Matador Records, opted for Pledge Music's direct-to-fan platform establishing their own imprint, Nostromo Records to release their third album A New Nature. The band have been quoted as stating that their intention was to make a record that dispensed with clever production techniques, enabling them to capture the spirit of their live performances - "Just three of us, in a  room, making noise" - And they have done so with an effortless assurance, with the assistance of producer Steve Albini, the master of raw, stripped back sound. A New Nature is unquestionably their best, most spontaneous sounding, cohesive and musically honest offering to date.

The album begins with the dark atmospheric sprawl of 'Press Heavenwards!' which ebbs and flows across ten dazzling minutes. As album openers go, it's a brave statement, and serves as a compelling introduction setting the overall tone for what is to follow.  Other highlights include the strident, brutal sensuality of 'Dig Your Fingers In', and the claustrophobic, visceral power of the muscular 'No Dog' which invites favourable comparisons to Sonic Youth and PJ Harvey, opening with a guitar riff that ever so briefly threatens to morph into Motorhead's 'Ace Of Spades'.

'Jungle', the albums monolithic centrepiece lasting fourteen minutes and 33 seconds, is bold in terms of both its ambition and its execution. It builds slowly, following the story of a woman navigating through a jungle, which snares her and attempts to devour her.  The ominous atmospherics give way to the mournful, poignant lament of a trumpet before the song surges onwards as the protagonist begins to fight back. 'Blood Teachings', the album's first official single, allows Rachel Davies' vocal to weave its subtle spell, fanning the slow burning intro until it finally glows, catches fire, and explodes into a glorious finale.  By way of contrast to the album opener, A New Nature concludes with their shortest song, signing off on what appears to be a hopeful note via the lilting bleak beauty of 'Bathed in Light'.

It's a superbly executed album and whereas a band such as, for example, The xx take the minimalist approach to the point where the vocal sounds like a disinterested, barely discernible whimper, Davies' vocal, stripped of reverb and unnecessary effects is given the space to shine. Indeed, by unplugging the drum machine, drawing down any electronic embellishments, and dispensing with layers and loops the band sound surefooted, dynamic and empowered.

A New Nature does retain elements of the brooding intelligent gothic pop of their earlier work but this time around, Esben And The Witch's predilection for post and progressive rock is thrust to the fore. There's also a real clarity of focus, not just an appreciation of the distinction between genuine drama and grandiloquent theatrics but also being creatively astute enough to achieve the right balance between freedom, experimentation and restraint.