Here at Monolith Cocktail we do our best to support and encourage upcoming bands, such as Brighton’s esoteric trio, Esben and the Witch. Who we picked up quite early on, and trumpeted to anyone who’d listen.

This review of their debut EP was one of my first ever pieces, and kicked off the blog back in the summer of 2009. We also feature them in a live review, from Audio in Brighton, when they supported the Fiery Furnaces with great aplomb.

Esben And The Witch – ‘33’ EP

Esben & the Witch are  immersed with the sounds of the macabre via some Victorian Spiritualist meeting. Seated at this seance is such luminaries as Scott Walker, Thom Yorke, Amon Duul II and Siouxsie Sioux.

Though a relatively new band these guys have picked up a nice slot supporting DeerHunter and appeared at the last minute on the bill of The Great Escape festival in Brighton.

Still unsigned, which is a travesty, Esben has already managed to produce a pretty distinct sound which covers the Gothic, Electronica and Atmospheric cool of recent bands like School of Seven Bells.

The strange name of the band comes from a Danish fairytale, which can be investigated on the Myspace site; the gist of the tale is like the Brothers Grimm but with a more horrendous nasty twist.

They have just released a rather ethereal halcyon 5-track EP; which has got me excited!

The opening coral beauty of ‘Abstract’ sets the tone of this haunting record as it creeps into the second track ‘Eumendies’ -imagine if you will a rather young sounding Siouxsie Sioux fronting The Cocteau Twins. Heavy in atmosphere and loaded with effects that gradually build to a quasi-disco beat backing before vanishing into the mire, this oozes with confidence.

‘Marching Song’ reminds me a little of the old Britpop band The Audience (famous for being fronted by a young Sophie Ellis Baxter). Lyrically we are treated to Second World War poetry and a hint of Blake dragged-up for the beatniks – put that in your pipe! A real grower and fast becoming my favourite tune on this EP but that’s because I like a bit of the old melancholy.

Next up is the sweeping electronica of ‘About The Peninsula’ that strongly sows the same furrow as Thom Yorke seminal ‘Eraser’.  We get much more of the drum machines and industrial Gothic sound on this one and is possibly, in my mind, the more radio friendly track – though I do hate that term.

Finishing the EP is ‘Corridors’ a sweeping epic drenched in brooding layers of effects that goes all out on the dark electronic vibe whilst featuring lush yet underlying vocals, pinched with a hint of anger and pain; imbued with a touch of Bjorks more darker tomes.

A great record, which mixes romantic despair with an eerie sense of drama; a soundtrack to the scribble illustrations of Eddie Campbell (illustrated Alan Moore’s From Hell) and the films of Werner Herzog.

Check it them out at: –

1.    Abstract

2.    Eumendies

3.    Marching Song *

4.    About The Peninsula *

5.    Corridor

*Denotes stand out tracks.

The Fiery Furnaces

Supported by Esben And The Witch and some strange fellow and his minidisc player.

Audio, Brighton

7th October

The Fiery Furnaces
The Fiery Furnaces

The torrential October rainfall, which would have usually put paid to me having a good night couldn’t be dampen my spirits, as I stood waiting for Esben and the Witch to begin their nights work.

No, I persevered as my soaked soaks and wet t-shirt took the duration of the gig to finally dry out – three hours to be precise, standing in Audio, though I soon forgot the discomfort and that even my stupidly tight jeans had shrunk so badly that it started cutting of the supply of blood to my legs.

Taking to the stage as though preparing for some esoteric ceremony surrounded by Victorian props, such as a rather fetching wooden owl and old oil street lamps from some stage production of Sherlock Holmes, Esben and the Witch attentively and sheepishly began the first stirrings of a magnificent and brooding set.

Lead singer and Gothic glam siren Rachel is flanked by the duo of guitarists Daniel and Thomas, who with heads bowed play intricate riffs and melodies through a cacophony of effects, building all the time to the songs punch line or laying down a crescendo of macabre textures which never quite but always threaten to reach a climax.

The focal point is a solitary bass drum and cymbal in the centre of the stage, ala An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump set up, which Rachel often lets rip on when not directing proceedings or occasionally playing the bass guitar.

All the time her vocals, which sound like a heroic clash between Siouxsie Sioux and a more somber Florence Welch, steer the moody trio through some often choppy and rarely chartered musical waters.

Most of the current EP ‘33’ was offered with some tracks that I’m not myself yet familiar with but which sounded pretty good and further cement these guys as one of the UK’s best kept secrets, though I’m certain this won’t last long as some of the national press have started to cotton on.

‘Marching Song’, ‘About The Peninsula’ and ‘Corridors’ all sound more animate then the recordings, in fact you could say they where brought to life with both the playing and the theatrical display – at one point all three of the band huddled round the bass drum together and played a combination of beats at the same time over an already pre-recorded backing track. A hark back to the days of Jesus and Mary Chain perhaps, an Eighties that I would relish being sent back to.

They may take time to grow on you and demand concentration, the atmosphere has to be right which on this occasion it was as the musicianship is all very delicate and looks on the surface underplayed. In fact they take their cue from Johnny Greenwood and his shoegazeing doodling style of playing.

Esben and the Witch delivered tonight and showed me that my initial interest was well warranted. Doom pop with a twist.

The second support act shambled on stage in over the top Vegas style sunglasses, a Russian hat and a big old sheepskin like flying jacket. At first I thought he may just be someone from the crowd who decided to wander up on stage but once he put his minidisc player on a stool and addressed the audience we all realised he was the act.

I don’t even know his name but he delivered a strange set of observational and wry tunes that lasted for a couple of verses and chorus before the next one kicked in. His stage act was edgy and full of humor and his voice came across like Suggs trying to narrate the back catalogue of Lou Reed.

The concept seemed to be haphazard but it all seemed to be pretty stage managed yet proved refreshing, like a mix of poetry and uncomfortable performance in one package.

Our main man grimaced his way through his assemble of itchy subtle electro beats and twisty ambient soundtrack, titles such as ‘God Of War’ consisted of him pontificating his status while aiming a few lines at open toed sandal wearers.

His closing track had an unsettling moment as the backing track played for nearly two minutes before our man who stood still and motionless, uttered some words. He seemed to be caught in the headlamps, lips slightly parted.

A welcome interruption to tonight’s main event.

Our headliners The Fiery Furnaces take to the stage rather unannounced and break straight into their stride, both awkward but melodic they mess about with the original versions of there songs changing the time signature or lyrics around to fit the environment and atmosphere.

Showcasing the latest LP ‘I’m Going Away’, the Friedbergers and their bass guitar/drum-backing group performed a myriad of scattered tunes from ‘Single Again’ all the way up to ‘Widow City’ favourites like ‘Duplexes Of The Dead’ and ‘Japanese Slippers’.

Leading the set was Matthew on lead, who always reminds me of the actor Bruce Campbell, whilst his sister Eleanor in her old US khaki war jacket much like the ones worn in Vietnam, confidently addressed the audience throughout, her voice in fine form as usual.

The backing minus a couple of slip ups, were tight and the bass player must be congratulated on some impressive playing, especially when the timing changed from the super fast almost incomprehensible to half time in only a couple of bars. Also the drummer made some quip about his snare being on the wrong side as I think he dropped his sticks on one feverish song but managed to keep the whole thing together nonetheless.

Highlight wise for me was my current favourite tune ‘Keep Me In The Dark’ one of the poppier tunes off ‘I’m Going Away’, which always puts a smile on my face with its highly infectious hook and sheer unadulterated feel for John Hughes type teenage throwback angst from 1985.

Some of the tracks got heavy and took on a motor city feel like the Stooges or MC5 especially on ‘Starring At The Steeple’ as they took artistic license to their own music.

‘Drive To Dallas’ had a slightly more omnipresent hard leaning sound invigorated with notes being pulled out of the bag or plucked from the air.

Their sound seems to go from mid American friendly guitar solos found in the Eighties to the Seventies guilty pleasures of soundtracks and dare I say it almost Carole King territory melodies, though all with a certain tongue-in-cheek knowing, yet I can’t help but feel there is a real soul in their music especially when seeing them live. Eleanor may have a drawl and dry wit but there are some real emotional stirrings on display. Original on both the playing and subject matters, it seems they always manage to hit a stride and feature strong memorable beguiling melodies. Why their not about ten times more popular I’m amazed, if you don’t own a copy of their albums feel ashamed.

Closing on ‘Japanese Slippers’ after throwing requests to the audience, the show came to a quick end, though they did do a packed hour set so I’m not complaining.

They say there be back which I hope they will as I’m already in need of some more.

Dominic Valvona.

Esben and the Witch caught live
Esben and the Witch caught live

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