Thursday, February 7, 2013

Widowspeak Travels Around Almanac

widowspeak by samantha marble
The last time Widowspeak landed here with their self-titled LP, the similarities between Molly Hamilton and Hope Sandoval were quickly dispensed with at the open. But there isn't as much reason to draw out the comparisons on the band's sophomore outing, Almanac. Hamilton has increased her vocal clarity, giving her more distinction as a vocalist.

True, she is still the same soft-spoken, wistful singer. But Almanac is a bit more than an ethereal introduction. While the band is still as wistful as ever, they have jacked up the instrumental vibe along with Hamilton's vocal prowess. It's a masterful album, with a bit diversity within the mystery.

Almanac takes them on an original odyssey. 

The magic inside the album transcends the old Hudson River Valley barn where they recorded it. Although the album itself is cohesive, each of the 12 tracks play like individual discoveries to be unwrapped and savored for a spell.

The first track worth unwrapping in this case is Locusts. It's not the album's first track, but it was the band's pick to be released as a video in support of the album. The song is delightfully hazy, mildly distorted, and exceptionally exotic. The atmosphere the band puts down begs you to spin as it spins.

The track is dark and soaring like much of the album, working hard to envelop someone and escape with them for a little while. The opening track, Perennials, does much the same thing. The song might be about the temporary nature of things — that nothing lasts forever or gives us any reason when it leaves — but what you do with those minutes and seconds might matter.

Dyed In The Wool carries a classic rock vibe, but also showcases Hamilton's flair for idioms. She frequently tucks them inside of songs and then builds them with remarkable effect. Dyed In The Wool is like that, the penance for hurting a loyal friend. There are a lot of dark spots on the album, and Widowspeak makes each and every one of them beautiful.

The Dark Age is indicative of how strong of an album Almanac is from start to finish. It was also one of the first songs they ever wrote together, but recently reworked to better fit the album. Although it's probably the most straightforward rock song on the album, it is also one of the most haunting. It's about being in a bad place and wanting to stay there.

If there is one song that feels like a story, check out Ballad Of The Golden Hour. Although lower on the playlist, it pinpoints how the band has evolved from their stripped-back debut. Widowspeak has been able to keep its tense, low key, and lamenting tone but make everything bigger and sharper in the process. Golden Hour is about knowing you have to leave some things behind but the fear of leaving the wrong things.

Almanac has plenty of peaks and no real valley across 12 tracks. 

There aren't really any throwaway tracks on the album. Devil Knows is awesome for its mischievousness. Thick As Thieves brings in all sorts of instruments like organs, harmoniums, and autoharps to hum along and move along in your life. Sore Eyes is a crazy, optimistic apocalyptic number. And the Spirit Is Willing retains some of the 1950s influences appreciated so much in the debut.

The lead duo, Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas, have really perfected something special in Widowspeak and they somehow manage to always find the right people to help them do it. The fuller and more polished sound is partly due to producer Kevin McMahon. Willy Muse is also back with his bass and Kyle Clairmont Jacques laid down the percussion.

Almanac By Widowspeak Is A Whirlwind At 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Anything Widowspeak might have improved upon from their debut album is done. The band has grown into creating a much more diverse, eclectic, and interesting mix while retaining their dreamy pop, classic rock laced roots. If you ever wanted to hear a whispered album sound arena big, this is it.

Almanac by Widowspeak is available on Amazon or can be downloaded (with a digital insert) from iTunes. The vinyl edition can be found at Barnes & Noble. Keep up with Widowspeak on Facebook.
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