Can an album really be completely interesting and super boring at the same time? Because that’s what comes to mind on the debut album by British three-piece band Esben & The Witch. Violet Cries, the first proper full-length by the band, is a confusing mix of sweeping, melodramatic ambiance and well-written music. Sometimes the band opts for guitar, sometimes for synth, but one thing remains consistent: the earth-toned dramatic vocals that wrap the whole thing in cool breeze full of dead leaves.
I don’t want to say Violet Cries would make a great soundtrack to the Twilight franchise because that would sound unintentionally insulting. But Violet Cries would make a GREAT soundtrack to the Twilight franchise. The dark, brooding emotion that comes from both music and lyrics are enough to transport you to whichever Maryland woods The Blair Witch Project was filmed in. That’s not to say there’s no merit in the album. The songs are pretty well written, and the emotion they want to convey is conveyed very well. But for every interesting change the music goes through, the vocals remain stagnant.
I think one could probably lift the vocals from the hectic “Chorea” and lay them on top of the soothing “Marine Fields Glow” and get pretty much the same results. And that’s sort of how the whole album goes. Musically, it’s a pretty diverse record, but the vocals keep bringing it back to square one. When this works, it works pretty well. The album’s lead single, “Marching Song,” is a nice mood-setter and “Eumenides” is a fun, yet frantic, build-and-drop-you-off track.
The fact of the matter is that vocals are important. No matter how good the music is, boring vocals can ruin a band. Frontwoman Rachel Davies isn’t a bad singer, she actually has a pretty nice voice! She just doesn’t seem to know how to vary her style the same way her band mates vary their music. Can that really ruin an album? Not completely, but unfortunately enough. If you’re super into the kind of thing Davies delivers, you’ll love Violet Cries. But enough is enough, and this record? Well it’s way more than enough.
Buy Violet Cries now on Matador.