Friday, September 16, 2011

Widowspeak Spins A Hazy Web

There’s one comparison that needs to be gotten out of the way. Widowspeak’s Molly Hamilton sounds quite a bit like Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval.

There’s similar phrasing and similar delivery. But then again, someone could argue comparisons to the Breeders’ Kim and Kelley Deal, Cat Power, and Drugstore’s Isabel Monteiro. But let’s be clear: Hamilton is her own performer. And Widowspeak is not a knock off or cheap imitation.

Widowspeak has deep roots in three cities: Tacoma, Chicago and Brooklyn. 

Tacoma is the home of singer/rhythm guitarist Hamilton and drummer Michael Stasiak; guitarist Robert Thomas hails from Chicago. Hamilton and Stasiak met Thomas in Brooklyn, which is now the band's home and cosmic base.

The trio has managed to craft a surprisingly cohesive sound in a relatively short amount of time. They even played some solid shows in Brooklyn while Thomas and Stasiak finished their degrees at New York University.

Their stripped down sound definitely captures a unique vibe as Thomas strums his Telecaster, Hamilton picks out notes on her junky Danelectro, and Stasiak holds it together with a drum kit that can only be described as ultra minimalist.

The sound conveys a slow burn with a Brooklyn lo-fi sensibility, with a bit of nostalgia and 50s rock added for good measure. It's at once familiar and brand new, unbridled and addictive.

Released on Captured Tracks and recorded at Brooklyn’s Rear House with Jarvis Taveniere (Woods), the self-titled Widowspeak is sparse, artistic, nostalgic, and confident. The songs have a common theme of longing for home (perhaps Tacoma) and finding oneself in strange and unusual places, perhaps with strange and unusual people.

It's a heartbreaking album, but not depressing. The best word might be haunting. 

The album proper was released in August 2011, but preceded by the March release of Harsh Realm/Burnout as a 7 inch and Gun Shy/Wicked Game in June, also as a 7 inch. Wicked Game, a cover of the song by Chris Isaak, is worth the download for its fresh sound. If you didn’t know better, you might think Wicked Game was a Widowspeak original. It’s that strong.

The band’s influences clearly include Velvet Underground. But Lou Reed and Mo Tucker would likely approve of Widowspeak’s ten tracks, especially the hazy, lazy Ghost Boy and the Sixties yet modern longing of Harsh Realm.

Even the most upbeat tracks such as the near-pop-like Hard Times and Puritan, present a band that is low key, lamenting, and tense. Fir Coat’s poppish beat and guitar evoke images of Tanya Donelly and Belly. In the Pines isn’t the classic folk original popularized by Leadbelly (or Nirvana); it’s an original that seems to swirl as it tries to find itself. Limbs, meanwhile, is contemplative and slow moving.

Throughout, Hamilton’s voice conveys loneliness, yet confidence in its acceptance. Although all of these songs feature solid songwriting across the board, sometimes the lyrics get lost in Hamilton's delivery, which, although emotive, is not always easy to interpret. She has openly admitted being a bit shy and suffering from stage fright.

"I knew you in the harsh realm. I thought about how it was. I thought about you because, I always think about you," sings Hamilton in Harsh Realm. 

The song has a haunting quality that is elegant in its simplicity. In all, it's a strong album, but I can't help think that there's so much more untapped talent and potential here. If the band delivered an album this good on comfy ground, imagine what they could achieve if they took some risks.

Widowspeak Will Burn Your Head At 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The band is still finding its niche. But as they get more shows under their belts, I anticipate that we will see and hear great things. They are currently on tour with the Vivian Girls through the end of September, with more dates expected to be announced soon.

The band stays in touch with fans while on tour through Twitter. You can pick up the self-titled LP Widowspeak from iTunes. You can also download the LP from Amazon. Extra kudos to Captured Tracks for taking a chance on a band with a bright future.
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