At the center of Violet Cries, the debut album by UK goth-gazers Esben and the Witch, a song titled “Hexagons IV” stirred up a disorienting blur of psychedelic textures and post-punk doom. Simultaneously one of the more accessible tracks on the album as well as one of its strangest, it represented the best of the band’s strengths, namely their talent for funneling uneasy, even ugly sounds through oddly alluring vessels. The band’s new EP, Hexagons, features six tracks that bear the name “Hexagons,” numbered I through VI, though the “Hexagons IV” that appears here is very much a different song, driven by ominous piano chords rather than trippy guitar riffs and tribal drums. And yet, the effect is largely the same – harrowing, spooky sounds conveyed through a curiously compelling melody.
In the 20 minutes that comprise Hexagons, Esben and the Witch dive further into the atmospheric side of their dark post-punk approach, tapping into a deeply eerie feeling that may have missed Halloween by a week, but maintains a spectral feeling all the same. Acoustic instruments play a larger part on this EP, as displayed on “Hexagons I,” which is built on a delicate interplay between piano and guitar, and Rachel Davies’ chillingly sweet vocals. There’s a similarly elegant quality to the beautifully hypnotic “Hexagons II,” yet it benefits from the addition of programmed drums, giving it an extra boost of structured immediacy. Overall Hexagons is a more nuanced effort, but that allows their songwriting to shine even brighter, and it’s never sounded better than it does on “Hexagons V,” a dense, dream pop hymn that does nothing to abandon their otherworldly charm, but succeeds in lending it some extra grace.
With less than a year between Violet Cries and this subsequent EP, Esben and the Witch have shown considerable growth as a band. At times, they are still capable of stirring up the noisy goth-rock chaos that they created so beautifully before, but the direction they seem to be headed is somewhere prettier and even more alluring.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.