Having left Matador after the bewitching soundscapes of last year’s ‘Wash The Sins Not Only The Face’ LP, Brighton trio Esben And The Witch www.clashmusic.com/tags/esben-and-the-witch released a split LP with blues-rock act Thought Forms. Expanding on the primal alt-rock surge of the standout track from that set, ‘No Dog’, ‘A New Nature’ sees them leaving behind their gloomy, shoegaze-style arrangements for a raw, menacing voyage.
Helmed by Steve Albini, the formidable highpoint ‘Dig Your Fingers In’ (video below) combines his trademark abrasive production with Rachel Davies’s yearning, Liz Fraser-like vocals. Dark and sprawling centrepiece ‘The Jungle’ could feel overproduced, but its tribal beats and dissonant guitars build their way into an epic, urgent climax. Most striking of all is the sparse dream-folk of ‘Bathed In Light’, which sounds like the piercing intimacy of ‘Is This Desire?’-period PJ Harvey being covered by Mazzy Star.
Too often though, the band’s shimmering melodic sensibility gets buried under a distorted wall of sound, making potentially beautiful tracks like ‘Blood Teachings’ come across as plodding and overlong. The pounding scuzz of ‘Those Dreadful Hammers’ becomes too caught up in sounding experimental and feels like a half-realised idea. These tracks also suggest that Davies’s airy, vulnerable tones might be more suited to the swirling studio trickery of previous albums.
Despite ‘A New Nature’’s ominous sound feeling hackneyed at times, EATW retain the fearless, forward-thinking ethic of their first two records through themes of finding strength in adversity, impassioned vocals and unpredictable sonic outbursts. Overall, it’s a thrilling risk.
Words: James Evans
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Related: Their Library: Esben And The Witch