Release Date: Jan 22, 2013
Record label: Captured Tracks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
The second Widowspeak record opens with the sounds of someone walking alone through a dark and rainy forest – maybe they’re just communing with nature, but you get the feeling that they might be safer inside with some tea and the doors locked. The band’s neurotically smoldering dream pop plays it cute and creepy – mashing up the doom-whispering Ambien-elegance of Mazzy Star, Fleetwood Mac at their witchiest, Cat Power at her clawiest, murder-tinged country ballads and steamy psychedelic vertigo. Molly Hamilton breathes all manner of fire into lines like "It's getting kind of late/Don’t know what you’re waiting for," and the overall Twin Peaks vibe is so thick David Lynch should get a production credit.
The story of Widowspeak can be seen as a sudden musical venture, but also as a lifetime in the making, as both singer Molly Hamilton and former drummer Michael Stasiak grew up in the neighboring cities in Washington, the damp forests and muted colors informing the eventual aesthetic of their band, combining with their new Brooklyn home and the area’s sleepwalking nostalgia championed by the Captured Tracks label. Within a few months of starting Widowspeak on a whim, they had a handful of songs and were playing shows. A few weeks after that, they were planning their debut LP.
Review Summary: Rain ahead.Widowspeak specializes in a sort of burnt-hued Americana, a nostalgic blend of singer Molly Hamilton’s ethereal heroin-chic aesthetic and the dusty, widescreen guitar-rock courtesy of bandmate Robert Earl Thomas she delicately navigates. For two people, Widowspeak makes an awful lot of noise: guitars whip-cracking smartly along skeletal melodic lines, robust, rattling percussion, a cloud of reverb that seems to have been transplanted straight from Jim James’ silo. Their old homes in Washington never seem too far away, licks and harmonics obscured by the damp and the foggy, a sense of green filling everything up with crackling vitality.
Instead of trying to recreate previous highs like "Harsh Realm," Widowspeak take the spooky allure of their debut album in a more traditional direction on Almanac. With a fuller, more polished sound courtesy of producer Kevin McMahon, Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas go beyond the Hope Sandoval and Mazzy Star influences of Widowspeak and instead draw inspiration from one of rock's original dark princesses, Stevie Nicks. There's a strong Fleetwood Mac influence throughout, whether it's the soft drama of "Dyed in the Wool," a song whose gauzy prettiness evokes Nicks' chiffon getups, or the steely guitar licks on "The Dark Age.
In today’s era of chic folk revivalism, the term “folk music” itself has lost much of its original meaning and significance. The current vernacular seems to apply the idiom to any and all bands that build their sound around the template of a rollicking acoustic guitar. What this serves to do is recognize the form for its more common devices rather than its essence.
Smoky indie-folk duo Widowspeak moved from the Pacific Northwest to Brooklyn after the release of their 2011 self-titled debut album. Singer Molly Hamilton and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Robert Earl Thomas still create sleepy-eyed, ’70s-indebted pop tunes on their second effort, Almanac. The scope and girth of their songs are improved by co-producer Kevin McMahon, whose warm board work on Real Estate’s Days is diffused throughout.
Widowspeak’s second album, Almanac, begins with the lushly detailed, surf-tinged ‘Perennials’. The song is in line with the pristine jangle pop Widowspeak’s label, Brooklyn’s Captured Tracks, has come to be known for, but its canyon-wide spaciousness immediately announces that the band has freed themselves from any expected lo-fi trappings. Following ‘Perennials,’ the rip curl guitar of ‘The Dark Age’ and ‘Locusts’ offers a rougher-edged variation on this sound, the latter a sort of smoky waking dream of a ‘60s soul song.
A few months ago, the Brooklyn label Captured Tracks asked how Molly Hamilton would describe her band Widowspeak's second album to someone who's deaf. "Almanac is like moving into a big old house in the woods with sheets covering all the furniture, and then taking all the sheets off." The languidly-voiced singer may have been referring to the group's actual experience recording in an old barn in the Hudson River Valley, but the description works on a more intrinsic level as well. The crackling of a fire that begins opener "Perennials" burns off the home-recording dust that has been trailing them since their debut October Tape EP, clarifying the song's ringing guitar line and sharpening the indefinable edges of Hamilton's croon.
On their 2011 eponymous debut, Brooklyn’s Widowspeak turned heads and captured hearts with a musty take on shoegaze and dream pop, one that hinged on Molly Hamilton’s often beguiling and usually beautiful vocal recalling Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. Given plenty of space to float in the songs, like motes of dust in sunlight in a forgotten room, its greatest recommendation was that it transcended any possible derivative nature to find its own character. Backed by songs of quiet distinction – not without their more abrasive moments – it was clear the band had the nous to of make the most of bare means.
Widowspeak recorded their second album in a 100-year-old barn in New York’s Hudson River Valley in that exquisite dusk between summer and autumn. You can hear it, too. The first track, ‘Perennials’, starts with heavy rainfall and puts its preoccupation with seasons and the ephemera of the natural world centre stage, all through a fug of nostalgia.
Hear the words ‘hazy’ and ‘breathless’ anywhere near an American boy-girl combo with a penchant for being photographed staring wistfully into the distance, and you’re probably going to think of Beach House. Brooklynites Widowspeak do little to dismiss such associations with ‘Perennials’, the opening track to their second album Almanac. Building from a rolling drum beat and some reverb-heavy guitars before the introduction of Molly Hamilton’s soft-focus vocals, it soon sends you into the midst of a sun-tinged revelry which is all very nice, but haven’t we already heard all of this before? Thankfully, Widowspeak are quick to show that there’s more to their bow with ‘Dyed In The Wool’, a more spritely, upbeat track with more than a nod in the direction of divorce-era Fleetwood Mac, all dramatic cymbal crashes and an ominous sense of foreboding.
Considering how Mumford & Sons — a.k.a. those four British dudes who dress like they lived during the Taft administration — are arguably both the most successful folk-rock band on the airwaves right now and frontrunners for Best Americana Album at this year’s Grammys, it’s fair to make the assumption that geographical origins do not play as important a role in the genre as they did in the 1920s and 30s. Like any other type of modern music, Americana has been diffused, diluted, and deconstructed, inside the heartland and out.
Brooklyn’s Widowspeak have a way of doing more with less. Their 2011 self-titled debut was a remarkable study in restraint; Molly Hamilton’s languorous voice found the melodic sweet spots while Robert Earl Thomas’ guitar playing was as sparse as the Ennio Morricone soundtracks he so obviously loves. So what’s a minimalist band to do for its second go around? They could strip everything even further, or go for broke and thrown in the kitchen sink.
The term dream pop dates back to the 1940s, where the term was used to describe the use of soothing vocals and dream like qualities in pop music. In contemporary music, the term is used to describe the likes of Beach House, Bat for Lashes, or pretty much any band that has been featured on Pitchfork. The term may be used a bit excessively now, due to the tendency to label any act fronted by a female as dream pop.
WidowspeakAlmanac[Captured Tracks; 2013]By Ryan Stanley; February 8, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetDream pop is really only as overcrowded with young artists as any other style of guitar music these days, so why is it the one that feels the most played out? Don’t even try to convince me that the popular (and often great) garage rock and punk of the last couple years has more “original ideas” or whatnot . Certainly innovation isn’t the selling point of every great record, and it’s hard to say that a band like Beach House is “ripping off” some kind of previously concocted sound anyways. Maybe, then, we can conclude it’s the qualities that dream pop has shared with so many other come-and-gone microgenres and trends in this young decade’s DIY music that have weighed it down, the most obvious of which are the thick layers of reverb that have lately come to be widely seen as less of an “effect” than a mask, often hiding low production values and melodic weakness behind a washed out haze.
The cover of Almanac bears a slight resemblance to the sleeve of Fleetwood Mac’s iconic Rumours: both feature a man and a woman, the former clad in a vest, gazing down at the latter whose arched body is engulfed in a long dress. But it was more 1979’s Tusk that Widowspeak producer Kevin McMahon (Swans, Real Estate) aimed to pull from for this Brooklyn duo’s sophomore effort. Those sounds of Fleetwood Mac flair on the “Rhiannon”-esque “Dyed in the Wool”; on Robert Earl Thomas’ formerly hazy and subdued guitar wails on what he calls “the most straight-forward rock song on the album,” “The Dark Age”; and in Molly Hamilton’s croon (often likened to the sound of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval), which consistently demands more attention here than on 2011’s self-titled release.
In an interview about her new LP, Molly Hamilton of Widowspeak was asked by her label, Captured Tracks, “How would you describe Almanac to a person who is deaf?” She responded, “Almanac is like moving into a big old house in the woods with sheets covering all the furniture, and then taking all the sheets off. ” From the opening crackles of ambience, sounding somewhere between a campfire and soft rain on fallen leaves, this feeling of woodsy resurrection is tangible. On Almanac, Widowspeak have delicately crafted a steaming broth of rural nostalgia, painfully endemic wanderlust, and a quiet reverence for the spirit of rock n’ roll.
Examine Almanac’s whimsical, bucolic artwork and you’d be forgiven for assuming that this might be some sort of Fairport Convention covers record. It’s not, and in spite of its release on NYC’s marvellous Captured Tracks imprint, nor is it your standard, harmless dream-pop album. Instead, this duo manages to beat the usual Beach-Boys-fan-boy formulae of their label-mates into a fine and splendid pulp.
Almanac, the sophomore effort from Brooklyn-via-Tacoma’s Widowspeak, makes you wonder just how much longer reviews will have to introduce this winsome little group. Their 2011 self-titled debut, charm as it did ’90s alt-rock enthusiasts and anyone who found in shy lead singer Molly Hamilton a new indie crush, didn’t quite muster staying power beyond a flash of critical acclaim. In the year since, founding member Michael Stasiak left the band, Hamilton started scripting songs about the 2012 apocalypse, and the group set up shop in an antique upstate barn—as congruent a space as possible for its hazy, woodsy, and ethereal vibe—to tweak the instrumentation and altogether scope of its newest material.
At first it sounds like scratchy old vinyl, but actually it’s the crackle of fire that leads off the warm and sumptuous new album from Brooklyn’s Widowspeak. On “Almanac,” the indie-rock duo of singer-guitarist Molly Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas shed early comparisons to Mazzy Star. Their latest is widescreen Americana shot through with sparkling guitars and a buoyancy largely missing on their 2011 self-titled debut.
AARON NEVILLE “My True Story” (Blue Note) Aaron Neville said recently that he had been trying to make a doo-wop album for the last 30 years, and that no record label would give him the chance. It should go without saying that this borders on the outrageous, even by the usual standards of music industry shortsightedness. Perhaps not coincidentally, this frames “My True Story,” his first album on Blue Note, as a product of wish fulfillment and not just a smart recalibration.
Brooklyn duo turns rural for its second album. Mike Diver 2013 Widowspeak are city slickers, more accustomed to the urban jungle than the American wilderness. But with second album Almanac the duo’s headed well beyond the suburbs. Robert Earl Thomas and Molly Hamilton – a guitarist of yawning slides and spidery rhythms; a vocalist sharing similarities with Hope Sandoval – have worked with Swans collaborator Kevin McMahon on a set that sounds every second the product of its recording environment: a 100-year-old barn.