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Esben and The Witch Hexagons
Released 4 November 2011
Label Matador
Length 19:26
Genre Gothic rock, electronic
Website www.esbenandthewitch.co.uk

When Esben and the Witch released their debut album Violet Cries earlier this year, it was met with critical acclaim, suggesting a bright future may lie in store for the Brighton trio in soundtracking the lives of a whole new generation of adolescents in eyeliner and ankle length leather jackets. Hexagons is the gothic rockers’ follow up, a concept EP based on the track 'Hexagons IV' from their debut album, consisting of six songs each called 'Hexagons', numerically ordered from I to VI, and given evocative subtitles like 'The Fall', 'The Flight', 'The Still', 'The Thaw'. I sense I’m already losing people, and in truth, if you’ve a low tolerance for pretentiousness, you will find this tough work to say the least. However, if you are prepared to put the ‘concept’ nonsense to one side, you will be rewarded with an intermittently interesting, if ultimately frustrating experience.

Esben and the Witch trade exclusively in glacial sounds, with very little by the way of warmth or cheer, coming across as much darker, angstier Bat for Lashes. The EP begins in discordant fashion, setting the tone for what is to come: Rachel Davis’s pained vocals clashing with sinister plucked guitar. It serves as a beguiling opening to the album, suggesting a lot but saying very little, fading away abruptly, setting the scene like the opening credits to a film noir.

Part 'II' ('The Flight', in case you were wondering) is more upbeat and insistent from the start with trancy keyboards over a big beat foundation. There is more going on here, and unlike the opener, it feels like proper song, with a definite verse followed by a vocal hook, building and then dropping suddenly. If there is a criticism to be made, it’s the over-complicated nature of the song, which chimes in with the feel of the EP as a whole: it’s as if there’s just a jumble of ideas, some very interesting, but often going unexplored. 'III' continues along the same theme with a gorgeous piano intro, insistent, chanting vocals, and a gradual build up of tension and atmosphere. The shimmering coda is a high point, pianos drenched in reverb, seamlessly leading into the next track, which, in truth, fails to really go anywhere; it descends into a sparse outro section which challenges the patience, a bit of self indulgence which might have been better off on the cutting room floor. The Spanish guitar of V serve as a welcome relief, adding a different dimension as, vocally, Davis draws on similar styles as before, and by this point it all starts to sound increasingly samey. The EP closes out with a post-rock cacophony which is fairly in tune with the atmosphere of the previous fifteen minutes; not really giving the listener anything new to take away from the experience.

It comes down to a question of what Esben and the Witch wanted to achieve from this EP. Their debut has put them in a favourable position, critically at least, and if the aim was to try out ideas and experiment then, fine, because Hexagons feels, at its core, like a band trying things, and being quite lenient in the editing process because, in truth, even though this is only fifteen minutes of music, there is a fair bit of filler, and the frustration that a number of the better ideas haven’t been explored in a satisfactory way. As a stopgap between albums, it’s an occasionally diverting piece, but the hope is that it spurs them on to flesh things out on their next full length offering.

-Ken O’Meara