Were you to choose a banner song for the Esben and the Witch that we’ve come to know in 2014, it’d surely be ‘Dig Your Fingers In’. It oozes grit, determination and belly fire: qualities present with abundance in the Brighton trio, who find themselves a fully functioning micro-industry as they set out to release A New Nature: their PledgeMusic-funded third album and first since parting ways with indie powerhouse Matador Records.
Laid down over a fortnight in Chicago with producer extraordinaire Steve Albini, ‘Dig Your Fingers In’ is also a pretty apt capsule summary of the record in general: at one moment delicate as a whisper, by its crescendo able to batter you to within an inch of oblivion. A brutal and beautiful cacophony entirely of their own making and one that will leave you grasping on for dear life.
Listen here: ‘DIG YOUR FINGERS IN‘
More About A New Nature:
“New ground, new stars, new ways of seeking…” – Esben and the Witch, ‘Blood Teachings’
It is with these mere eight words that Esben and the Witch sum up their past 18 months as the adventurous trio look towards new horizons. A New Nature is Esben and the Witch’s third full-length album within five years, and their first since the Brighton band departed from Matador Records. Change and a spirit of adventure are embedded into the genes of A New Nature, with the band taking control of every aspect of the recording, including changing the very way they compose the material and stripping back the sonic production, right down to establishing their own Nostromo imprint for its release.
Committed live to tape by Steve Albini in May 2014 at his Chicago-based Electrical Audio studio, immediately after hitting 100% on their Pledge Music campaign, A New Nature is the sound of Esben and the Witch rewiring their well-worn punky, cinematic post-rock and tearing into the challenges ahead of them with their sleeves rolled up and fangs out. With producer/programmer Daniel Copeman unplugging the band’s drum machines – formerly very much part of their rhythmic attack – and settling behind full drum kit, bassist and vocalist Rachel Davies finds herself in a freer, looser and more dynamic rhythmic domain, while guitarist Thomas Fisher sets about building on his closest friends’ foundations with a Pink Floyd meets Sonic Youth blend of texture and searing force touching at times on the scorched drone of Earth and Barn Owl.
A New Nature connects its makers’ live ferocity to the listen-at-home audience, with tracks like the veins-swelling ‘No Dog’ and progressively boisterous ‘Blood Teachings’ truly showcasing this band’s on-stage energy. Throughout, Davies’ enrapturing lyricism wraps itself around music that convulses and calms, flails and rests through a series of dramatic highs and halts. In ‘The Jungle’, this dynamic is realised in a single, albeit epic track, where mournful trumpet sounds a call to the fallen before raising spirits for a final attack on the senses.
Those familiar with Albini’s work might connect the dots between uncompromising fare like this and his recordings for PJ Harvey and Neurosis – yes, A New Nature does get that heavy. Equally, this set sees Esben and the Witch stretch themselves into the ambitious post-punk territories that Swans have so long called their home turf. But don’t be fooled into thinking A New Nature is an exercise in imitation – far from it, this is the sound of a band sincerely realising that its strengths needed time to mature, and they have done in a fashion startling to anyone who might still think of them as purveyors of material exclusively in the manner of their breakthrough single, 2010’s ‘Marching Song’. Evolution, expansion, call it what you will: this Esben and the Witch is unconcerned with tags and terms, instead committed only to producing the most enveloping, electrifying and fulfilling music they can.
Says the band:
“We wanted to create a record that had a level of purity to it. To strip away the layers and loops and see what lay beneath. To keep things naked, unadorned and raw. The three of us, in a room, making noise. We looked to create a more primal record, full of human emotion and sonic intensity. Drawing on themes of endurance, strength, determination and self-actualisation. Themes that have always inspired us but perhaps, only now, a few years down the line, a few years of touring under our belts, we feel we have the confidence and maturity to explore and shout about.”
A New Nature follows two well-received studio albums – Violet Cries (2011) and Wash The Sins Not Only The Face (2013) – and a greatly acclaimed Invada Records-released split 12” with regular touring partners Thought Forms (spring 2014). Shortlisted for the BBC Sound Of 2011, Esben and the Witch’s progression from a largely studio-minded outfit to one never more comfortable than when thrilling an audience from the stage has been engrossing. They have developed greatly since initially emerging onto critical radars, and today possess powers that the Esben and the Witch of just a few years back were still dreaming of realising.
A New Nature is supported by the band’s loyal, and growing, fanbase, who swifty contributed towards its recording via a highly successful Pledge Music campaign. This DIY-yet-inclusive attitude has led to the band founding its own label, Nostromo, through which they will also release material by artists they love themselves.
Thank you for listening, Comrades.
1. Press Heavenwards!
2. Dig Your Fingers In
3. No Dog
4. The Jungle
5. Those Dreadful Hammers
6. Wooden Star
7. Blood Teachings
8. Bathed In Light
Esben And The Witch play Hackney’s Oslo September 4th. Tickets and further information, here.
Praise for Esben and the Witch:
“This hell-spun sprawl of Portishead-gone-Swans noise is a reminder of why so many fell in love with this band in the first place.” – Drowned In Sound
“Esben’s monstrous swirl of noise threatens to chew up and swallow all within earshot” – Stereogum
“Like the bloody confrontation of two monolithic titans” – Consequence Of Sound
“Veritable tornados of sound… irresistible 8/10.” – The Line Of Best Fit
“An album of chilly, detached beauty. 9/10” – The Fly
“An arresting step towards the light. 4/5” – Mojo
“An essential companion for sombre souls.” – BBC
“Richer and more refined than any of their contemporaries. 8/10” – NME