Though it probably couldn’t quite be claimed entirely as ‘their year’ (perhaps best saved for 2011) there is no contesting that Esben and the Witch have experienced one hell of a 2010. It was only in the last 18 months that the band self-released their debut EP 33, which began to gather a wave of momentum and unanimously positive reviews around the start of the year. This was followed up with a slew of high profile support slots, a couple of limited single releases and now topped off with this 12” release, their first after having recently signed to Matador.
Those familiar with 33 will of course recognise lead track ‘Marching Song’, though it has undergone a bit of a transformation. As you might expect the production is considerably cleaner than the original, which has it’s pluses and negatives; whilst this new found clarity does shine even more light on to the impressive range of Rachel Davies’ vocals it also strips back some of the immersive claustrophobia which made it so engrossing. It still maintains it’s haunting atmosphere and driving rhythm though and manages to craft a swelling climactic track from relatively minimal arrangement. It’s arguably the best track they’ve recorded to date and, all considered, this overhaul only serves to accentuate it’s brilliance further.
There are also two brand new tracks, the first of which ‘Done Because We Are Too Menny’ is a more delicate piece, opening with ruminative guitar strums and splashes of noise all wrapped in a layer of translucent fuzz. The vocals push things in to feedback territory and give off an air of impending terror as they echo back from the ether, the track subtly builds towards a climax before petering out; the sound of a band who are comfortable not pandering to expectations. ‘Souvenirs’ is perhaps the band at their most expansive yet, a rumbling ethereal nine minute journey which in many ways mirrors ‘Corridors’ only more restrained and, as a result, captivating. The subtle percussion amongst washes of dissonant guitar and synth form a perfect backdrop to their typically oblique lyrics, only snippets of which are fully decipherable, as it sprawls in to a low reverberating slice of brooding euphoria.
The fact that not everything can be clearly deciphered straight away is one of the most appealing factors here though. Esben, alongside the likes of The XX and Zola Jesus are forging a path to inject a little mystique back in to pop music, drawing on the despair and theatrics of gothic culture to create songs which are stirring, atmospheric and adventurous whilst still maintaining an accessible edge. This EP is further evidence, if it were needed, that Esben and the Witch are capable of big things. Bring on the album!