Brooklyn’s Widowspeak sit somewhere between the psychedelic chug of The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe when he teams up with Tess Parks, and Mazzy Star – but with a far lighter, airy tranquility that The Proper Ornaments exude. Molly Hamilton’s vocal is, of course, the main likeness to both Parks and Hope Sandoval whilst the subtlety of the music leans more towards the band from London.
Plum is the duo’s fifth studio album to date, and the first since 2017’s Expect The Best. Sticking to what they do best, there’s little in the way of remarkable revelations going on here, and with the recording of the album in winter of last year in the Catskill Mountains by Sam Evian, the mood sits well with the quietness of those surroundings, although this is very much music to chill out to on the porch in soft, gently falling rain or, equally, comfortably take on board during a lazy summer afternoon.
Four singles preceded the album’s release, the first being the laid back, observational Breadwinner in May, some two months after the completion of the collection, which was done and dusted just as lockdown kicked in. Warm synths abound, as the subject matter tackles something that we can all relate to – work: “Baby, you’ve gotta quit that job ‘cos you’re boss is a jerk”, as Hamilton sings, is surely a conversation that’s taken place in just about every other household, as well as, “Always bringing your work home”, although that second quote already appears outdated now that half the world seems to be working from home anyway. There is a strong resemblance to just about anything by Cigarettes After Sex with Breadwinner, but the topic is far less sleazy and abound with sexual references than much of the Texan dream popsters’ output.
Money came next, boasting some beautifully jangly guitars from Robert Earl Thomas, with cymbals also playing a vital part and Hamilton’s vocals providing gorgeous accompaniment: it’s easily one of the standout tracks here. As is the third single, both title track and opener, as innocence shines through the vocals for an endearing cut based on the Japanese belief Wabi-Sabi, which deals with the imperfections of reality. Completing the quartet of singles is recent effort Even True Love; based around “existential dread”, according to Hamilton, because of the realisation around life being “absurd and finite”, the song lets out a less than cheery vibe with lines like “You can’t take it with you”. Despite its pleasantness, there’s a little lack of direction creeping in.
Elsewhere, there are hits and misses. The Good Ones hits on a simple riff but struggles to hold interest, as does the minimal Sure Thing. The folky Jeannie is touching, although it bears the hallmarks of a song that will sadly end up being one of those tracks that suffer the annoying, accompanying chitter-chatter from gig goers that have dismayed us all at times. Amy sounds something like Roxy Music’s Avalon during its intro but lacks an inspiring chorus, its bassline providing its most notable feature. Closer Y2K, though, is spot on as achingly sultry vocals, melodic tones and smooth organ chords deliver a sublime, atmospheric and moving moment.
Remaining much in the vein of their past work, Plum does little to rock an established boat. Going forward, consistency is the key Widowspeak must aim for, because if you took their top moments from across all five albums then you would have an absolute classic on your hands. Plum needed a larger smattering of their best capabilities to warrant repeated listens.