ESBEN AND THE WITCH Violet Cries ( Matador Records)
The nicest thing I can say about Violet Cries — and it’s very nice indeed — is that I’ve listened to it many times and have not had the same experience twice. It sounds entirely different in headphones, on computer speakers, a boombox, and a car stereo, at different volumes and even during different times of day. The points of comparison (Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, My Bloody Valentine, Black Sabbath) make for an odd description of this English trio’s music, but theirs is an ever-changing sound. The one constant is Rachel Davies’ powerful singing, whether it’s accompanied by piano or guitar reverb, backed by electronic beats or brushes on a hi-hat, or whether the lyrics are profound or unintelligible. The music maintains an ethereal, mystical feel that drifts forward for 35 minutes until bursting, almost inevitably, into frantic dance beats at the climax to “Eumenides” and then relaxing into “Swans,” a relatively straightforward number reminiscent of early Cat Power. Out of the multitude of experiences I had with this album, my favorite was while driving on a highway at night, as the first flakes of a snowstorm blew across the windshield and flashed briefly in my headlights — a moment in time that is likely as good a description of the music as any.
— Robert B. Ker