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’s waifish delivery was admired as a sonic dead ringer for that of cult ’90s band Mazzy Star’s vocalist Hope Sandoval. Indeed, both singers can be found buried in the mix, leading their bands in creating moods both delicate and dangerous, offering trembling, distorted takes on Americana evoking dark, 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. The formula, in essence, is the combination of Hamilton’s breathy vocals and the structure provided by guitarist Robert Earl Thomas. On ‘Harsh Realm’ and ‘Widowspeak”s other highlight, ‘In the Pines,’ guitars trudged forth with a constant, loping rhythm, lending Hamilton’s voice a cold steel 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. And by lending Thomas’ whipping melody the sway of a dandelion, Hamilton creates something new for the band — a kind of sweetness their colder debut lacked.
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 most striking melody thus far. 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’ perfectly brings into focus a lilting Hamilton melody and the country vibrato of Thomas’ guitar — the kind of moment they should have stuck closer to.
If the album lacks anything, it’s consistency. ’Minnewaska’ sees the band moving even farther outside of their comfort zone. The gently pitching hymnal is admirable, but it feels stretched a bit too far. The song anchors the less stable second half, which hews 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 it practically assures the Mazzy Star comparisons are behind the band for good.