Death In June - Essence! [NER - 2018]Essence!, the first album of new material in eight years from Death in June, is rather aptly titled- as it distills everything you’d expect from this influential, though often controversial Neo-folk project. Over the albums eleven tracks, we get a blend of tightly moody yet often memorable strummed acoustic guitar, gloomy and wordy baritone vocals, and creative use of subtle sampling and unsettling studio effects.
Moving away from the collaborative & piano based feel of the project’s last album Peaceful Snow. Essence! finds DIJ once again as a solo project with everything here being played, written and produced by Douglas P. The albums total playing time comes in at a fairly concise forty-four minutes, with each of the eleven tracks sticking closely to a verse & chorus setting. The sound throughout is very much set around the twin focus of clean, yet stern acoustic guitar playing and Douglas P vocals. The guitars are tight, yet often harmonic and moody in their presentation, and the vocals are bleakly baritone but at times gloomily tuneful. Added to these two key elements we get the subtle musical addition of vibes, light percussion, and chimes, with sometimes distant hummed backing vocals, very sparing electric guitar, and the occasional bit of whistling. Then from time-to-time, but never in an overdone or intrusive manner, we get dialogue samples - from either TV or film, fleeting sound textures, darkly unbalancing studio tricky, and the very occasional sinister psychedelic moment.
For the most part, the album is consistent with each track nicely balancing memorable, though often stern melody, with Douglas P’s coolly snipping and playfully sarcastic vocals. The sound throughout doesn’t really depart from what long-time followers of the band will know, though maybe there are slightly fewer pop sensibilities here, compared with the last few DIJ albums, with a more darkly sour and, at times, bleakly persistent feel to proceedings.
Moments that stood out to me came in the form of “Snipers Of The Maidan”- with its blend of tight, often discordant acoustic guitar strums, wails of ugly & yawning E-bow electric guitar feedback, creepy chiming tones, and Douglas P’s vocals that are often a blend of up front and strong, creepy whispers and hisses. The tuneful guitar strum meets the subtle, pitter - pattering keyboard melody on “Going Dark” which features the great, darkly amusing chorus refrain of ‘Like a Fly on the wall at my own funeral, I’m free’. Or the bitter-yet- uneasy exit track “My Florida Dawn” I find most effective its blend of reverberating piano strikes, banks of swarming orchestral ambiance, Douglas P's sinister sing-song vocals, and towards the end the occasional rise of electric guitar and seared noise elements.
The album comes in a few different editions- they are three different vinyl versions-Green & Maroon splatter (300 copies), Translucent Pink ( 700 copies), and a picture disc (1000 copies). There’s a cassette tape edition, download then lastly a CD version. All except the tape and picture disc editions come in black foil-blocked sleeves and include full lyric booklets. All versions feature the rather neat hooded red figurehead on their front covers. So whatever format you want to enjoy the album in, it’s covered.
In conclusion after a few reissues and live albums in the last ten or so years from DIJ it’s great to have a new album in the form of Essence!. It’s an album that will please long-time fans of the project with its presentation of the key, beloved DIJ elements, yet throughout there are both moments of careful invention and creativity occurring within the songs different creases & folds. I certainly don’t think this will be the DIJ album to convert you to the project, but if you like the classic sound I’m sure you’ll find this a welcome return to form.Roger Batty