Widowspeak - Almanac
If Widowspeak's debut album was the sound of someone wandering through the desert during a peyote trip then their second album, Almanac, is the odd little world ended up in as a result of falling down a rabbit hole. It's a beautiful garden of delights that's ineffably disconcerting, perhaps because you know everything isn't quite as it seems. The natural surrounds can barely contain their technicoloured splendour. The creatures that inhabit the garden are exaggerated versions of themselves. Your senses are subliminally overloaded. Every feeling you experience is heightened. It's a good place if you're feeling great, but unfathomable if you're not.
Translating that analogy to describe their current sound, Almanac sees Widowspeak dust off their desertous "dreamgaze" aesthetic to reveal more of a lush, classic 70s rock sound. In fact, Almanac is much more evocative of Fleetwood Mac (see 'Perennials' and 'Dyed In The Wool') than the assortment of late 80s Paisley Underground influences that haunted their debut. However, like the deceptive veneer of the aforementioned garden, under each towering blues guitar slide and glistening autoharp strum lies a feeling of longing that is more associated with 50s bossa nova called 'saudade'. 'Saudade' is the bittersweet yearning one feels for a golden time that they may or may not have even lived through. It can be a romanticised view of the past or the future. It's sadder than mere nostalgia because it's not a fleeting feeling; it's an eternally pervasive one. There is no guarantee that such heights will ever be reached and you suffer for hoping that they will.
Almanac is essentially a rumination on the desire to preserve things long gone, and the way this is often hopeless-but-eternal battle is recreated through the record's music is remarkable. 'Ballad of the Golden Hour', the album's stunning centrepiece, starts off by warming you up with washes of acoustic guitar as Hamilton despondently sings about "how it used to be." After several build-ups that psych you out, a majestic instrumental bridge rushes in at you out of nowhere. Steel string guitars crash on you like a tidal wave and the feelings of futility both crush you but inspire awe. It's actually awesome in the true sense of the word. 'Locusts' is almost as grandiose, with its gradual build up of celestial guitars and pounding drums that eventually soar over you in waves of light, like the Aurora Borealis. Elsewhere, wispy shanties like 'Thick as Thieves' and 'Minnewaska' and the epic 'Storm King' possess a weightless beauty that you can feel but can't touch. Imagine the ghosts of two reunited souls waltzing over a midnight sea. It's a thoroughly romantic scene underlined by an ache of sadness. Almanac is full of sublime moments that activate these confused feelings but not every song feels the need to be celestial to do so. Earthier cuts like 'Sore Eyes' and 'Spirit Is Willing' are still sprinkled in the sands of the Old West, while 'Devil Knows' has a seductively Californian swagger. These tracks provide enough heft to ground the album and stop it from floating away.
Almanac is a gorgeous record that, aside from its sheer beauty, is also impressive for other reasons. Firstly, it ignites an intuitive understanding of the relationship between the phenomena seen in nature and the journeys of our lives. You could even argue that it is a distant relative of Björk's ethos with her incredibly ambitious Biophilia project, as the patterns of nature that echo human emotions are recreated in the music itself. You don't even have to pay that close attention to what's being said, as much you do to the way things are being said. Widowspeak, (through guitarist, Robert Earl Thomas, and producer, Kevin McMahon) are so adept at using their music to bolster the emotions they seek to convey that nothing feels unnecessary or cumbersome. Every lilt and odd phrase tugs something in you. Secondly and most importantly, Almanac shows the band wear its influences on its sleeve whilst simultaneously forming a distinctive identity of its own. In particular, this point is illustrated by Molly Hamilton's growing comfort with her front woman status. Often compared to Hope Sandoval, Hamilton's breathy coo is far more distinctive this time around. While it still sounds a lot like Sandoval's, it's starting to feel very different. Hamilton is morphing into a more compelling individual with each release and her growth is central to Widowspeak's huge capacity for longevity.
All of these factors make Almanac an exciting landmark for Widowspeak. It's the sound of a band that is following it's own natural pattern and reading it very well. If you try to use Almanac to predict anything about Widowspeak, you will glean only one thing: we will never know their pattern before they do but they will bring us musical prosperity if we trust them to navigate it for themselves.
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