Widowspeak, ‘Almanac’ – Album Review
Widowspeak’s eponymous debut, released in 2011, was a creepy wonder — an album whose lurching highlight, ‘Harsh Realm,’ recalled late-night walks in sketchy Brooklyn neighborhoods, its very rhythm stalking forth like a ghost.
Singer Molly Hamilton was admired for her waifish delivery and hailed as the second coming of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. Indeed, both singers can be found buried in the mix, creating moods both delicate and dangerous, offering trembling, distorted takes on Americana and evoking haunted natural expanses.
‘Almanac’ adds a few new colors to Widowspeak’s palette, moving away from the first album’s slow burn without changing the formula much. As on ‘Widowspeak,’ the heart of the music is the interplay between Hamilton’s breathy vocals and the structure provided by guitarist Robert Earl Thomas. On ‘Widowspeak”s two highlights, ‘Harsh Realm’ and ‘In the Pines,’ guitars trudged forth with a constant, loping rhythm, giving Hamilton’s voice a hard floor on which to stand. On ‘Almanac,’ guitars ring out a little more — opener ‘Perennials’ announces itself with a clean and soaring riff that recalls a different kind of ’90s pop, more ‘Bends’-era Radiohead than Mazzy Star. With the aid of Thomas’ whipping guitar melody, Hamilton creates something new for the band — a kind of sweetness their colder debut lacked.
Another different: The creepiness is diminished and the hooks are turned up for ballast. ‘Dyed in the Wool,’ the album’s standout, features a propulsive guitar riff and what is perhaps Widowspeak’s best melody yet. Hamilton’s delivery clicks. As she puzzles over the depth of a pair of blue eyes, the song weaves organically, like a breeze blowing through an Andrew Wyeth painting. ‘Ballad of the Golden Hour’ brings into focus a lilting Hamilton melody and the country vibrato of Thomas’ guitar — the kind of moment they should have stuck closer to.
Experiments elsewhere don’t land as softly. ‘Minnewaska’ sees the band farther outside of their comfort zone, and while gently-pitching hymnal is admirable, but it’s a weaker song than the rest. The second half of the record is less stable overall, hewing between the pastoral and the slinking of closer ‘Storm King.’ It finds them a little unfocused, lacking the perfect sweetness conjured in the best moments of the first. But together they seem to assure that Mazzy Star comparisons are behind the band for good.