Having lived in Brighton up until last June, I’d heard quite a bit about seaside trio Esben and the Witch, but unfortunately had never managed to catch them live. I’d listened to a couple of their songs, however, and very much liked what I heard, so I was excited to see what their debut album was like, especially given the recent buzz that has been around them – they were nominated for a Q Next Big Thing award, as well as being included in the BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll.
The band take their name from a Danish fairy tale, and this is very fitting considering the gothic, almost dreamlike music that they make. Their sound is idiosyncratic, but you can hear clear influences too – Portishead, for instance, certainly seem to be one. Their sound is also fairly similar to The xx, so it’s unsurprising to hear they have supported them on tour.
The album is dark, and what immediately strikes you about it is how the tracks seamlessly blend into one, with it sometimes hard to know where one track ends and another begins. Vocalist Rachel Davies has a haunting voice, reminiscent of Beth Gibbons with a hint of Liz Fraser – yet it is still powerfully unique. The lyrics are for the most part distorted, Davies’ voice being a powerful instrument in itself.
Stand-out songs include opener Argyria, with its beautiful intro which builds and builds atmospherically until finally the vocals come in right towards the end, and Marching Song, perhaps the most accessible track on the album and its first single. Other notable numbers are Light Streams, with it beautiful layers, and Warparth, which has a lovely distinctive guitar hook. Short but sweet Marine Fields Glow is rather gorgeous also.
All in all, although Violet Cries can occasionally get a bit monotonous – the tempo of the music doesn’t change much throughout – for the most part it is an impressive debut. It will certainly be very interesting to see what tricks Esben and the Witch have up their sleeves next.