Young Widows specialise in tension, and on their third album, In And Out Of Youth And Lightness, they don’t seem interested so much in exorcising demons as in holding them up by the throat and letting them writhe and gasp in a swirl of dust motes. Young Widows are also doing something rare in indie rock today, fusing big guitar sounds (all hail the fuzz attack on Future Heart) and a post-modern fuck-you-or-not attitude with a refreshingly nineties alternative vibe.
Look back at the glory days of MTV, when bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Presidents Of The United States Of America, Green Day, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam dominated. Alternative rock was ugly, and everything was blown out and grainy. Zits, blood, ashtrays, missing teeth, filth, whatever; grunge was not just a novelty term.
Young Widows capture that same grimy attitude in their video for Future Heart (all bloody noses and ears juxtaposed with hunks of meat being autopsied), and they don’t seem to be doing it ironically. Certainly, there have been plenty of bands recently calling up nineties comparisons (Silversun Pickups, The Joy Formidable), but Young Widows give the impression that they’re living it, anger, squalor, and all.
Front man Evan Patterson never quite takes to growling; instead he sort of talk-garbles over churning guitars – and his timbre bears more than a passing resemblance to Tom Vek on C-C (You Set The Fire In Me). But underneath Patterson’s vocal presence, there’s a rhythm section that churns and pounds with the best of them (most notably on the rhythm-heavy opener, Young Rivers), drums awash in huge reverb, and bass fuzzed out and filthy.
Patterson’s guitar work is utilitarian – there are no big solos or prolonged moments in the spotlight – but effective. His freakouts are more heat-inducing and unexpected (a bit like Stephen Drozd from The Flaming Lips) more than virtuosic, but they get the job done. This time round, they’ve stretched their songs out, but they’re by no means a jam band, or shoegazing noisemakers (like Pontiak, for instance).
Young Widows are the sort of band that you imagine spending their time practicing in an old warehouse, sound-checking to vagrants huddled in corners as the overhead lights flicker and the roof leaks like a sieve. It’s an intensely masculine image largely missing from indie rock today, as mainstream “alternative” rock has become largely the mainstay of merely passable label-driven bands who try to channel Eddie Vedder‘s gruffness without capturing any of his nuance.
Not so with Young Widows. Certainly, they lean heavily on their forebears, but they bring a nice indie sensibility to their sound, creating a sense of tension and borderline anarchy roiling just below the surface. Future Heart is the album’s standout moment because it represents a rare moment of cathartic release, the band finally letting their brooding rhythm swell into something nearly anthemic. Young Widows do it well, but a little less restraint would do them one better.