Esben and the Witch have had an interesting career trajectory. Their debut, Violet Cries was a dreamy, melancholic mix of post-rock and dream pop that sat somewhere between those two genres without really being either one. It worked and worked well, and the band sounded hungry and ready for more. That was seven years ago, and the band are now preparing to release their fifth album, entitled Nowhere.
Since their debut, the band have evolved their sound with a masterful subtlety. Their dreamy, lengthy psyche-pop songs have become shot through with a creeping darkness, a tension that’s almost impossible to pin down yet very obviously there. Skirting the edges of doom metal and shoegaze at times on their previous album Older Terrors, the band have written an even more somber and beautiful album with Nowhere, and while it doesn’t necessarily break new ground for the band, evolution rather than revolution is often a better bet for acts who have an established but highly malleable sound, as Esben and the Witch certainly do.
Where Older Terrors was a brooding, slow burn of an album that was darker than previous works while maintaining their dark pop sensibilities, Nowhere is more immediate of an album, with opening track “A Desire For Light” hitting you with distorted guitar chords and hypnotic drumming right out of the gate, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Nowhere has a lot in common with Older Terrors, but it’s also its own beast, content to both iterate on the band’s established sound while
I’d be remiss not to pause here and mention the production of the album, because it’s excellent and very effective at enhancing the band’s songwriting. Dreamy guitar arpeggios float in and out of focus, buoyed by an excellent drum and bass sound that allows the guitars and Rachel Davies angelic siren songs room to breath without being overbearing or taking away from any of the individual instrumental performances. The entire album sounds like a terrific live album being performed inside a cavern that happens to have an excellent sound system. Perhaps not the best analogy, but it’s the closest to what this album sounds like. It has a very “this was performed live” sound to it, and benefits from that.
Almost every track on Nowhere introduces some new element to the band’s sound, even if that element is just subtle folk, shoegaze or doom influences. the opening track “A Desire For Light” is very shoegaze influenced, for example, while the following track “Dull Gret” leans more towards doom. The band’s formula of messing with their formula seems like a strange choice, but it works very well and makes every track on the album easily identifiable and unique.
Nowhere isn’t anything revolutionary from Esben and the Witch but it’s a near perfect execution of their formula and an excellent iteration on, and follow up to, Older Terrors. This is a band that deserves greater recognition, and hopefully, Nowhere will be the album that grants them that. In a stacked year for great music, you’d be remiss to pass this up.