I discovered Esben & The Witch by accident, or by some strange combination of good fortune, good timing and a little too much spare time on my hands - I’m still not really sure. After reading an interview with the band on The Quietus it turned out they were playing as support at Sian Alice Group’s album launch a couple of weeks ago. They ended up being utterly captivating musically and a charismatic bunch, the attention to detail in their songs treading a fine line between spider-spun delicacy and outright muscle that suits the Danish fairytale they’ve named themselves after. The full text is on their MySpace, but it’s a distinctly European blend of morality tale, spook story and just a tiny helping of gothic kitsch – the sort of thing parents would have told their kids by candlelight to remind them not to misbehave. Along with their Brothers Grimm meets frosty Scandinavian visual imagery, they seem bound to that peculiarly timeless lineage where truth and folk myth collide.
Despite their use of electronics, the music the band – singer Rachel, guitar & multi-instrumentalist Daniel and guitarist Thomas - produce is curiously timeless and impossible to easily place, filled with a sense of isolation it’s not easy to replicate in a time where communications technology has overtaken every square inch of space. Each song feels like a journey into the attic of some long dead relative’s house, full of tiny ornaments, clutter and fragments of sepia photographs that constitute a lifetime’s worth of memories: eerie and occasionally terrifying, but moving.
Their debut (I think) EP 33 has a prickly, restless energy; opener ‘(Abstract)’ is a darkened invocation, a symphony of wordless voices that fade and part into the clearing of ‘Eumenides’. So called after the Furies of Greek legend, it’s a beautiful, brooding piece, a choir of stargazing guitars that launch heavenward in a blaze of feedback before crashing back to the ground to shatter into a thousand tiny shards. Singer Rachel uses her voice as an instrument as much as a lyrical focal point, at times barely intelligible as it sinks under its own weight or leaves shadows of delay in its wake.
For some reason I can’t put my finger on, ‘About This Peninsula’ reminds me of playing Final Fantasy when I was about thirteen. It doesn’t sound anything like videogame music but its effects-drenched guitars are full of the same foreboding you feel when you know you’re about to turn the corner to face the next boss. A tenuous comparison I know, but it’s there and I get the feeling they might appreciate the comparison.
Given that they’ve only been together only a year or so, the brilliance of 33 and the buzz they’re getting from certain corners of the music world bodes well for the future. They’re playing live a lot in the next couple of months, including a show at End Of The Road, and really should not be missed.
Photography by Lucy Johnston, used with many thanks: