Widowspeak’s eponymous debut album is a mystifying concoction of smoldering wild-west indie rock suffused with psychedelic folk, electric blues, and classic surf rock. Like a midnight drive down a forgotten wilderness trail, the listener is utterly lost in the album’s eerie, nocturnal themes and haunting imagery, yet despite this atmosphere of isolation and melancholy, the listener is carried through it all by the simple joy of adventure.
Widowspeak is, initially, simply an eclectic and unusual strain of indie pop-rock, yet it hides true complexity and charisma beneath the surface. Hailing from Tacoma, the trio is now Brooklyn-based, and despite prevalent influence of the New York indie scene on their work, a profound and satisfying touch of their western roots remains, and bestows this album with a charismatic personality all its own. Although the trio is just beginning their career, this album is impressively diverse and complex, both musically and emotionally. Despite its brief 30-minute length, each track channels an incredible amount of stylistic overtones, references, and themes across an incredible range of influences. Much of the album pendulums between the jangle and twangs of classic spaghetti western scores, 1960s psychedelia and surf rock, and all feature vocals from frontwoman Molly Hamilton as haunting and intoxicating as they are beautiful. While this may seem like a perplexing mix of sound, and is certainly eclectic, Widowspeak has ultimately forged a more than worthy album that captivates the listener and heralds a promising career.
The album’s opener, “Puritan” is an excellent sample of Widowspeak’s thematic and stylistic diversity: in seconds, it transforms from a jangling, faded string of dissonant guitar tones into a fast-paced indie pop anthem riding waves of 60s surf rock revival-and back again. The thrill of exploration is a theme visited sporadically throughout the album, in the wild midnight drive anthem “Nightcrawlers” and fast paced “Fir Coat.” Yet these optimistic and bright influences are manipulated in much darker ways on multiple tracks as the album progresses. “Hard Times” is by far one of the album’s catchiest and pop-oriented pieces, yet its message of crushing hardship rendered meaningless by even greater suffering to follow is wonderfully bittersweet.
Hamilton expresses her vocal diversity and skill with the start of the second track, “Harsh Realm.” Like an ethereal, melodic banshee, Hamilton’s intoxicating lamentations on obsessive and unrequited love instantly evoke pangs of longing in even the most jaded listener. Crooning, resonant, bass riffs and mournful electric howls bring the album to its lowest emotional point by far, yet the track is also perhaps the best example of Widowspeak’s unique ability to express a vast spectrum of emotion and imagery with a heavily minimalist sound. This is further developed in the album’s closer, “Ghost Boy.”
The album is not without faults, yet many of them are simply byproducts of its most endearing features. As it swings back forth between a dizzying number of sounds and themes, the album begins to suffer a bit of an identity crisis, and the rapid changes can overwhelm some listeners. Much of the album’s percussion feels muted and compressed, while this can be a great way to enhance the atmosphere or feel of a piece, on Widowspeak this effect felt far too pronounced when many tracks seemed to need a steady beat.
As the nocturnal Odyssey that is Widowspeak draws to a close, the listener is ultimately left, as in the beginning, unsure of their destination or direction, racing on into the star-flecked abyss. For all the emotion and imagery the album pours into the imagination of its listener, it offers no explanation or closure for its actions; it is just something more for one to contemplate on the endless road of life.