Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas’s concept album of sorts turns out to be a very good fit
Initially conceived as a concept album about a “chain-stitcher working in the satin district of an unnamed city”, Brooklyn-based Widowspeak’s sixth album The Jacket soon turned into something more abstract and personal, as writing about a third party proved to be difficult, with their own lives gradually creeping in. It’s likely a tricky process; it’s almost inevitable that whatever one’s line of work, one’s own past experiences will at some point shape things to come.
Primarily though not exclusively a duo of Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas, Widowspeak found that additional contributions from fellow musicians provided an external backdrop which allowed them to concentrate better on their own pieces of the jigsaw. That is perhaps why we see the core of the band being built upon here more than before. That core is a heavenly dream-folk-pop nucleus that relies heavily on Hamilton’s stunningly effective, duskily light vocals, reminiscent of female vocalists such as Tess Parks, although Hamilton leans more towards a softer side.
Attempting to “immerse people” in their own world for a short space of time is a good way of stating intent with the release of an album, and the first three tracks of The Jacket do exactly this. By the subtle third track Salt you’ve fallen under Hamilton’s spell, as the little variation in style sucks you in. From wispily soothing guitar on opener While You Wait – a song about “working in service industries to support music habits”, although that could be said of the entire collection – to the simple yet effective piano line that intricately weaves through Everything Is Simple, guitars are kept on a snowballing, tight leash, and there’s a sense of their desire to push out further into the spotlight.
But then the title track releases the hounds, as prowling guitars finally gatecrash the party after threatening to do so for some time. And this is where things become very impressive, as the combination of Hamilton’s gentle approach with Thomas’ elevated guitar presence balances things perfectly between two ends of the spectrum to devastatingly sublime effect. Another belter soon arrives in the shape of The Drive, and this time it’s even better as a ghostly keyboard line enters the fray, and along with the brilliant guitaring, these two contributions create possibly the band’s finest ever moment on record.
Elsewhere, the smooth chug of Forget It and more expected cut True Blue take things back down again, although Slow Dance features some more decent axe work towards its conclusion, adding further to the most pleasing formula utilised on The Jacket. Slow burning closer Sleeper goes in a slightly different direction, but it’s another major highlight, largely thanks to its reedy organ line and nifty guitar dexterity.
To bring the concept more to life, the band have been customising some jackets, and it’s little touches like this that turn heads; as such, there is an intrigue attached to Widowspeak that gives them an edge and assists in creating a tangible connection with fans. Through their concept for The Jacket, the band tell of how we all create symbols of who we are through our clothing selections, for example, and this can apply to just about every aspect of our lives with the choices we make. Deciding which music you listen to in a world that now benefits from so much of it is another tough choice, but in the case of The Jacket, it comfortably feels like it could be a very good fit for many.