I can't tell you anything at all / And that's the biggest joke of all.
Posts tagged Esben And The Witch
Tracks of 2011
…and, with this, I promise that’s the end of the lists. There won’t even be a rundown of the bands that have been permanently ruined for me by shambolic live performances in 2011. No sir. Not Pulp, Santigold, M.I.A., Asobi Seksu and Tom Vek. Nope.
In no particular order…
Apparatjik - Do It Myself (Draft 1)
So then, the new Apparatjik album is being de facto mixed and edited with everyone hearing the work in progress at every stage and being invited to contribute. To what? In part, to a fucking batshit nuts piece of chart hip hop sheen with an autotuned Jonas Bjerre drowned out by some phat rhymes. Total insanity. It’s amazing.
Violens - No Look On Your Face
The standout song from Violens’ series of nine monthly downloads, which was as bold as it was patchy. When it got good, however, it was more than a rival for 2010’s sensational Amoral. No Look On Your Face is a nugget of chart-bothering magic that neatly proves Ian Svenonius’s theory that pop music is based on a sadistic concept - offering the hook, all tantalising, then withholding it. This tune is different; the extraordinarily catchy hook doesn’t even appear until a minute and twenty seconds in, floats for two bars, and is then abruptly snatched away again, surfacing again later, non-committally. Jorge Elbrecht, take a bow. The b-side is a sultry, slow remix, every bit as good in its own strutting, mood-ridden way.
Ringo Deathstarr - Two Girls
Let it never, ever be said that the kids these days will let shoegaze die. Hardly anyone understands the aura of the tones better than this mob, gleefully ripping off Cigarette In Your Bed to the point that the result is something better than affirming; salvation in thievery. For every few instances of the dire piss take - Joy Formidable, say - there’s youth that just knows.
Lana Del Rey - Video Games
More or less the best manufactured music I’ve ever heard. This has been written by an absolute pro, with a delivery more like a weary Dietrich than a detatched talking head. It’s eerily good.
Esben And The Witch - Hexagons V (The Cast)
A band so much more inventive and intuitive than their peers it’s almost untrue, my highlight from their ridiculously prolific 2011 is not from their breathtaking Violet Cries, but from the subsequent Hexagons EP. “Blind. Blind.” Rachel shudders; it’s difficult to imagine such a tortured cry sounding so dispassionate, but then, like all the best bands, that’s part of the point. Duality, contrast and the posing of further questions, not the answers.
Epic45 - The Village Is Asleep
Just as Ringo joyously celebrate the scene that celebrated itself, Epic45 live Graham Sutton’s dream, won’t forget Bark Psychosis and won’t let them go, no matter what. I really didn’t think anyone made music like this. I’ve seldom been happier to be embarrassingly wrong.
Top 10 Albums of 2011 - 0, and some that didn’t make it
Here’s a self-indulgant recap of my top 10 for 2011.
10 - Talvihorros - Descent Into Delta
9 - Ringo Deathstarr - Colour Trip
8 - Conquering Animal Sound - Kammerspiel
7 - The Raveonettes - Raven In The Grave
6 - Epic45 - Weathering
5 - I Break Horses - Hearts
4 - Chris Tenz - Frozen Arms
3 - The Victorian English Gentlemens Club - Bag of Meat
2 - Rob St. John - Weald
1 - Esben And The Witch - Violet Cries
But, dear readers, there’s a twist in the tale…
0 - Kate Bush - 50 Words For Snow
I was halfway through the lazy process of writing up my top 10 when I heard 50 Words For Snow. I knew at that point I was fucked, really.
Maybe it was for the best. I don’t want to compare this album to anything else; it’s right and proper that it sits by itself, all alone. It’s the work of a total, total fucking genius - that most tired of tired epithets. It’s so haunting, so beautiful, that I don’t even know if I prefer it to Esben’s Violet Cries, or to Rob’s Weald, or to whatever. It just exists on it’s own terms, and that’s that.
No words can describe what this record sounds like. I think that is a large part of the point of the ethereal; it is imagined, and experienced, not described.
Some That Didn’t Make It
The Horrors - Skying
Thoroughly decent third album from a band who thrive on changing their aesthetic like rain; this Nuggets-esque swirl of Krautrock and psych is compelling, but not as downright fun as Strange House and not as overpowering as their Geoff Barrow-supervised shoegazeing opus Primary Colours. It’s still fucking great, mind.
Friendly Fires - Pala
Dancing shoes = on. A worthy follow up to a brilliant first record, Pala is more concerned with layers and smooth groove rather than raggedy, Liquid Liquid funk. It’s done so well that I really don’t care.
Jeniferever - Silesia
Jeni are getting better with every record, and Silesia has the most staying power of anything they’ve cranked out yet. It doesn’t contain anything to rival From Across The Sea, but then what does? Hearths is gorgeous, the opening title track striking, with all sorts of shades of violence and chilling atmosphere in between. This album was a brave move, and a brave assimilation of influences - the only way post-rock can even hope to remain interesting. Explosions In The Sky and all the rest of you tedious old wankers, take note.
Mirrors - Lights And Offerings
Impeccable pilfered 80s electro from some of the ex-Mumm-Ra crew. The standard influences (Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk) are so obvious that it’s almost not worth pointing them out, but when there are formidably well-written pop tunes like Ways To An End, Hide And Seek and Searching In The Wilderness, who cares? Joy is precious these days. Grasp it.
Alex Turner - Submarine
Suck it And See was mainly a festering piece of turd, so it was a relief to see Al Turner’s proper songwriting surface in some form, even if his band are now above and beyond the pale. This mini-EP drafted in Bill Ryder-Jones and Owen Pallett, but primarily existed to provide a soundtrack of quiet, maudlin heartbreak for one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. It’s remarkably affecting and despite it’s brevity, it was teetering on the edge of the top 10.
The Kills - Blood Pressures
Every time The Kills release anything, I want to love it dearly, with all of my heart. Luckily, their last attempt at weirdo grime-hop, Midnight Boom, was my favourite record of 2008 and my favourite thing ever done by one of my favourite bands. Less luckily, Blood Pressures has incredible, signature tracks, but lacks the insane invention of its predecessor, and to my impatient ears, it’s just OK. As I did with the Dead Weather’s second release last year; criticise your idols more than anyone else. Be harsh, demand more. The Kills are capable of so much better than this. It’s clearly still a great album. It’s just a step downwards, and this saddens me beyond measure.
S.C.U.M. - Again Into Eyes
S.C.U.M.’s live performances are exhibitions of wondrous, withdrawn violence and enviably brilliant shoegaze tones; I dubbed them as potentially the new Bark Psychosis earlier in the year, and I can award no higher praise. Inevitably, the resultant album never stood a chance of recreating this aloof, sullen chaos, but it is still something to be savoured nonetheless. Whitechapel remains as brilliant as ever.
Top 10 Albums of 2011 - 1
1 - Esben And The Witch - Violet Cries
I will hunt the one that burns out the beacon
There’s nothing else for us to do here.
But cut the sun from its mooring;
We will cut the sun from its moorings.
Our hands blister as we hold them in the light streams.
So, last year it was These New Puritans’ masterpiece Hidden. This year it’s something a lot more eerie, from a polar opposite band; who are not composers, who don’t spend their time on notation and chamber arrangements and the resonance of different types of chain metal. These are kids with ideas flowing from their eyes like light streams. This is a band who hardly had time in those 365 days to do everything they needed to. The tally is remarkable - this record, the Chorea EP, and latterly the Hexagons EP, a thing of storytold blinding wonder. Three distinct markers. This was the first, though. This was their statement.
I’ve rambled on about 2011 being the year of reclaimed shoegaze; the year when what was most appealing to me didn’t try and hide the obvious influences, didn’t try and pretend that it was collectively too cool, too far beyond. Within this disclaimer, Esben succeeded more than anyone else in taking those familiar references and shaping them into their own; “gothgaze”, someone told me with a wry smile.
Listen to how the guitar builds on Marching Song, betraying the minds of kids who thoroughly know what they are doing. Listen to that gleefully obnoxious digital distortion on the incredible opening track, Argyria; same kids taking delight in taking the piss. How about the deadset Bark Psychosis guitars in Light Streams, emerging from a terrifying cave of infinitely reverbed vocals?
What takes it above and beyond is not, in the end, the collection of careful textures and simple melodies and how they entwine and conflict; it is the most obvious attribute, Rachel Davies’s voice. It’s Natasha Khan on a bad trip; it’s Elizabeth Fraser having a rageful fight with you in close quarters. Rachel whispers and yelps and preaches and summons, and by the time she finishes the album, almost alone - We are the eryar. Here come the eryar - the atmosphere has gotten very nasty, the residue is something genuinely unsettling, as a fairytale burning and out of control. All well and good; the best of all, though, is Warpath.
Keep these secrets in my skin.
These sounds are that of moors and mountains and forests; the Germanic kind, the home of the cartel of the monsters. But equally it is crumbling factories, pit wheels that stopped turning, vast reservoirs of industrial waste, from whence the argyria came. It’s where humans interfered, and wrecked, and left. It’s denial of progress and celebrations that it ever happened, so that it could stop, and get forgotten.
This was the best album of the year by the most interesting, daring and imaginative band; with no competition at all. They ended 2011 a markedly different outfit from the one that commenced it; but whatever their state, they stand alone, and Violet Cries is fucking, fucking amazing. A worthy winner.*
* - Or is it? Tune in next time for a Deus ex Machina-esque twist…
You and I have become entwined
Where the calcium meets the current
At the shoreline
I watch you lace the light
Across the lines
And as you die
Oil pours from the sky
Flicker and fade
I stop, look to the skies
With an open mouth
The darkness fills my lungs
(I will drown here, I will die here
bathed in your demise)
This place is a wasteland
Your wings are mine
Your lights move through the ether
Swim in streams of tar
I will hunt the one
That burnt out the beacon
There’s nothing else for us
To do here
But cut the sun
From it’s moorings
We will cut the sun
From it’s moorings
Esben and the Witch - Light Streams
Sherlockian Mystery Solved
The gig was Dan Sartain. The venue was the Islington Garage, and the date was 3rd June.
The support were called the Fabulous Penetrators. Aside from having possibly the worst band name in the world, ever, short of Ringo Deathstarr (who overcome that hurdle by being really rather good indeed), they were pretty awful and I went outside and rattled off a load of texts instead. That this did not happen in a hazey dream is some relief. No more tension.
I realised this last night, totally randomly, when hammered. Beer loosening the cranks, lubricating subconscious mechanisms and fishing for the answer when knowingly trying to do so was entirely failing.
The occasion was Esben and the Witch at Sneaky Pete’s, out of the storm outside, a place for the disaffected gloomgazers to go and wallow. Esben are never quite there when they play live, I find - their pristine recordings lacking something - not volume, not intensity… just lacking some more depth, perhaps. They are, however, relentless, ambitious, and unnerving, and if they can just sort out their remaining issues, they could very well be ‘favourite new band’ material, with the other precious few - Violens, Tripwires. Marching Song is breathtaking and there’s a relieving, purifying burst of pure noise to close Eumenides. Aloof, confrontational, aware of their own flaws yet not really giving a fuck - Esben have some way to go, but they chose their path wisely to start with. They are no Alice.
Then, said the cat, it matters.
Stealing the show, last night, though, are Trophy Wife - Foals disciples, sure, from Oxford too to crank the comparison up. But living proof that amazing melodies, dry grooves and an intimate knowledge of how to perform your own music to maximum effect live, will win. Always. I will go out of my way to repeat this.
Grooved-out PM x