February 16, 2011

Test Spin: Esben and the Witch

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In the Danish fairytale, from which Brighton-based rockers Esben and the Witch draw their name, Esben is the tiniest of 12 brothers. And yet of the 12 he’s the most resourceful, constantly saving the group from harm. Eventually, Esben is forced to tussle with a witch, whose power knows no limits. He outsmarts the witch, escapes unscathed and rescues his brothers.

Hailed by the BBC as one of music’s most promising new bands and nominated for a Q Award in 2010, Esben and the Witch fail to live up to the hype on their debut. If anything, the trio proves they’re nowhere near as resourceful as the Esben of lore.

Though their name suggests that the band has a penchant for storytelling, you wouldn’t know it based on the lyrical content of Violet Cries. Lead singer and lyricist Rachel Davies has neither the songwriting ability of Florence and the Machine’s Florence Welch, nor the spunk of Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan, both of whom she’s drawn comparisons to. To cope with this, Esben mastermind Daniel Copeman buries Davies’ voice under a king-sized helping of reverb, which becomes increasingly distracting as the album plays out.

Certain songs like “Light Streams” and “Hexagons IV” would be far more interesting if Davies was actually allowed to sing out, while others like “Chorea” and “Warpath” have her “ghost in the machine” routine so engrained in their DNA that fixing them would require an overhaul.

A few of the tracks on Violet Cries suggest that there may be more to Esben and the Witch than meets the eye. Opening number, “Argyria” is moody, atmospheric and truly inspired. Lead single “Marching Song,” however, is a rousing number that seems incongruent with the rest of the album. In an ironic twist, iTunes bonus track “Lucia, At The Precipice” is actually the group’s strongest offering.

— Wesley Ambrecht

Original Author: Wesley Ambrecht