Although Widowspeak started as a band in Brooklyn (where they recorded their eponymous debut album for Captured Tracks), the music of this trio fits better in Tacoma, a city of about 200,000 inhabitants in the northwest of the United States, where two of the members come from: Molly Hamilton, the singer, and Michael Stasiak, the drummer. In fact, the third band member - guitarist Robert Earl Thomas - isn't from New York, either, but from Chicago. The band moves in the ever more transited waters of indie-pop influenced by the fifties and sixties - with nods to noise-pop and nineties shoegaze. The album kicks off with “Puritan”, a track that might cause confusion because of the surf-rock influences. Don't be fooled, this is not another band in the vein of Dum Dum Girls, Best Coast and Vivian Girls. They add different ingredients to their particular potion, the most important one being Hamilton herself. It's no secret the lady vocally resembles Hope Sandoval. They don't hide it, either - and they don't need to - because imitation is not their thing. “Harsh Realm” is as hypnotic as any piece by the former Mazzy Star singer and her Warm Inventions.
They achieve all that in two ways. Firstly, Widowspeak don't bury the vocals in walls of sound, like many bands of the present lo-fi wave do. They're aware of Hamilton's magnetism and they exploit it. In order for the band to sound as clear as they wanted, they hired Jarvis Taveniere (Woods). Secondly, their influences - like Hope Sandoval - extend beyond dream-pop. Other genres are referenced, such as Chris Isaak's sensual and intriguing rock. Not for nothing did the Brooklyn band cover “Wicked Game” on the flipside of the 7” they released prior to their album debut. We have to give credit to Thomas and his excellent skills on the guitar, adding a touch of blues to the tracks. His passion for American roots music is also palpable in the very country-like “In The Pines”. And then there's the Tarnation influence, on the folk-pop track “Gun Shy”. It all gives a very cinematic feel to the songs, which makes them sound perfect for, say, a David Lynch film.
The recipe can be simple sometimes – the trio uses some limited resources. Because the silky voice of Hamilton Thomas' nervous guitar play and Stasiak's discreet drumming aren't always enough, and that minimalism just doesn't cut it on some of the tracks. “Limbs”, for example, is a dispensable track, boring even at times. “Widowspeak” isn't an album you fall in love with immediately (apart from the very direct “Nightcrawlers”). It's also not the best stuff to come out of Captured Tracks in recent times. But with some patience - giving it the same amount of time they've used to record the album - this ten-piece collection turns out to be quite the grower.
Álvaro García Montoliu