The Best Albums of 2014, #9

band019. Esben & the Witch, A New Nature (Nostromo)

I’ve been following Brighton trio Esben & the Witch for a few years now, starting with their strange, atmospheric debut album Violet Cries. There was something strange about the music that I couldn’t get a handle on until I interviewed the band in 2011. It was actually one of my more delightful interviews in recent memory, as I was told how the band had little to no experience with their instruments, let alone songwriting and playing in a band. They started out naively, simply composing music based solely on instinct; intuition would guide where the songs went, not music theory. A band that felt an affinity to the more gothic side of rock – always quick to point out that they were more “gothic” than “goth” – Esben and the Witch have proven to be very good at creating dark, melancholy, often unsettling atmospheres and moods, and while that has continually improved, the chemistry between Rachel Davies, Daniel Copeman, and Thomas Fisher has transformed the trio into a surprisingly potent live act, to the point where they felt the next logical step was to record with the great Steve Albini. Sadly they were no longer on Matador Records, so they set off on their own and raised the money via PledgeMusic to record album number three in Chicago with Albini. Being an admirer of the band, I sensed this would be a perfect fit, and immediately contributed to the fundraiser. I wasn’t disappointed wither, as they’ve come through with a scorching, brooding, intense, smouldering album that emphasizes their remarkable live power, which even took me aback upon first listen. As strong as the record is, the biggest impact is felt on the three longer tracks, “Press Heavenwards!”, “The Jungle”, and “Blood Teachings”, which sound like equal parts PJ Harvey, Swans, and even Can, unpredictable yet deliberate in pace, focused on where the song is going to end up. And a heck of a lot heavier than anyone could have ever expected.