Iceland Spar – the opener of the new Esben and the Witch album – is a bold statement of intent, guitars either crash around noisily or are conspicuous by their absence pushing Rachel Davies vocals to the fore. The quietLOUDquietLOUD almost post-rock dynamic recurs a number of times throughout the album, but the record is better defined by the sound introduced on the second track, Slow Wave. Dominated by slinky, shimmering textures, ethereal vocals, and instrumentation which is probably guitars but is subject to technical wizardry to make it sound other-worldly beautiful.
One of the album’s best tracks is last year’s single DeathWaltz, urgent guitars soundtracking forlorn, melodic vocals. This is about as pop as Esben and the Witch are going to get. The high point for us though is The Fall of Glorieta Mountain, an elegant, slow motion, glacier of a track. “Is this an answer or is this an echo?” ask the lyrics philosophically, initially over acoustic guitars which morph unassumingly into a backing which is at the same time both majestic yet understated.
Wash The Sins Not Only The Face isn’t an album which will give you the hope to get through these cold, dark days, but it is an album which will reflect this time of year perfectly – dark, sometimes bleak, inward looking, but with a beauty in it’s iciness, which deserves to be appreciated.
Wash The Sins Not Only The Face is out today on Matador Records