Now fundamentally a duo consisting of founding member Molly Hamilton alongside Robert Earl Thomas, Widowspeak have found themselves – well, songwriter Hamilton mainly – influenced by a number of things for album number four, Expect The Best.
Firstly, a relocation from Brooklyn, New York to the town in Washington State where she grew up focussed her mind on the past; retaining an element of ’60s and ’70s influences, she’s also tapped into the ’90s this time around. But there’s more from her own past in the ’90s than anything else, her familiar surroundings perhaps the reason why she found herself able to create songs more naturally this time.
After their 2010 formation, the band’s earlier releases – from 2011’s eponymous debut via 2013’s Almanac to 2015’s All Yours – traversed a journey from folk/country with a brush of dream-pop to a gradual presence of all out dream-pop with a stroke of shoegaze which is how the new album overwhelmingly sounds, and with Hamilton’s dusky vocals so reminiscent of Hope Sandoval and the like, Expect The Best is the most akin to Mazzy Star so far. According to the band’s own label, they “exist somewhere in the overlap between sombre indie rock, dream pop, slow-core and their own invented genre”, with the new collection “their greatest balance between opposing forces: darkness and light, quiet and loud, tension and calm”. Again recorded by Kevin McMahon (Swans, Real Estate) Expect The Best sees the duo also pulling in their touring band members Willy Muse (bass) and James Jano (drums) for a fuller band experience.
Lead single Dog – about the “compulsion to move on from things and places, even people, when you’re not ready to” – hints at a slightly darker place than usual, where moody undertones form the core of a satisfying cut boasting a tremendous ‘bridge crescendo’ that leads to delightfully melodic chorus furnished with just the faintest country guitar twang. The title track focuses on social media anxieties, again emitting a little darkness with its ominous guitar wall, but it’s contrasted beautifully with Hamilton’s gorgeously innocent, sweet tones whilst Warmer provides a further serious sounding moment during a four-chord sequence soaked in dramatic layers of additional sound.
Aptly named opener The Dream is stunning, mixing The Brian Jonestown Massacre-esque chugging guitars with brief country twangs as the band nod towards their roots whilst at the same time crafting a chorus that sounds as if it’s been born out of the ashes of the closing bars of Ride’s brilliant Vapour Trail. When I Tried concentrates on lack of motivation before also recalling BJM, its chorus washing over you like a wave of blissful, shoegazey psychedelics and with Hamilton’s contrasting vocal tones it could easily have been drawn from another Anton Newcombe/Tess Parks collaboration, as could the superb Let Me where things build fantastically into an orgasmic climax of soaring guitars and crashing percussion; if this is the direction Widowspeak are headed, then bring it on.
The calmer Right On is another highlight, benefiting from dramatic keyboards and a persistent guitar hook, before album closer Fly On The Wall goes against the grain somewhat, doubling the usual track length to seven minutes and swirling round and round in an ever increasing frenzy until it wears itself out – just like a fly trying to escape from behind an infuriating window.
In the recent past, Hamilton has found time in between music responsibilities – or diversions – to complete a degree in design; this was with the intention of settling into a ‘serious’ career rather than one of fancy. How close she actually came to jacking things in who knows, but on the evidence of Expect The Best all we can say is, it’s rather wonderful that she didn’t.