You might quickly discover that September’s issue of BOTM doesn’t quite follow the traditional formula or, to some extent, even perpetually support the band it’s setting out to recommend. Why? Well, to be quite blunt about it, Esben and the Witch hasn’t always been a band I’ve been completely sold on.
When they mounted their first foray on consumers outside their coastal home of Brighton, one got the impression EATW were having certain difficulties maintaining followers for all but transitory periods. They’d show up in a couple of alternative magazines, or on semi-fashionable blogs, for brief stints at a time, only to have the cloth pulled up from underneath before the epidemic could gain any momentum.
In retrospect it’s obvious to see the band’s major external flaw; in 2010 NME was still surprisingly the lead curator for new alternative music in the UK, and the vastly young audience at the time would have had little interest in jumping aboard a sonic vessel (quite aptly) labelled “nightmare pop”. Of course times have altered slightly since then with bands like Savages and Iceage receiving due exposure, but four years ago NME were suspiciously hell bent on creating a uniform revolt on good taste, more so than we’ve come to expect today – it pains me to think a nation of now twenty-something’s still recoil shamefully at the memory of ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ once having extreme and uninvited influence on their lives.
In addition, however, the music Esben was toying with back then wasn’t exactly a spectacle to write home about. The first two albums, while showcasing a formidable backbone of influences in The Cure, Bauhaus and PJ Harvey, suffered in their reluctance to execute any bravery of their own. Though whilst Wash The Sins Not Only The Face could have potentially been viewed as a more uncompromising effort following Violet Cries, its bizarre insistence to asphyxiate better song writing amid oceans of heavy-handed reverb – at least in my mind – hinted toward something more timid. Unsurprisingly the music world took note and was rarely more forgiving.
However this year marked a push in the right direction for Esben and the Witch. After separating with their major the band were stranded short on cash, and so, in a bid to raise funds for a third full-length, they teamed up with close friends Thought Forms and Invada Records to put out a split.
Whilst Thought Forms’ four submissions each proved exceptional in their own right, critics were particularly drawn to Esben’s efforts. From the go ‘No Dog’ recast the band as an all new aggressive and industrious force, wasting no time in pitching gloomy, shoegazing guitars beside a rhythm section so brutally self-assured it seemed momentarily acceptable to double-check the credits. For a band who had previously struggled to assemble music with any lasting conviction, the statement of intent for things to come was now exceptionally vivid.
Following the EP’s rave reviews, Esben and the Witch has subsequently gone on to record A New Nature throughout this year, enlisting Steve Albini as producer. One would only hope Albini’s militaristic, no-nonsense approach does well to keep them sailing on the right side of forever tempting, murkier waters.
A New Nature is out now via Nostromo Records.