Tuesday, September 20, 2011

W1dowspe@k- S/T (2011) / Harsh Realm EP (2011) / Gunshy EP (2011) MP3 & FLAC

"An empty home, a vacant hell. I knew you in the harsh realm."

It is sobering to realize that it has now been a decade and a half since Mazzy Star's last release, Among My Swan, and though the ensuing years have brought many attempts to replicate their narcotic brand of bluesy psych-folk, none have been able to convincingly capture the alluring darkness that characterized the collaboration between David Roback and Hope Sandoval. The closest, in my estimation, was Miranda Lee Richards' brief stint in The Brian Jonestown Massacre, which yielded some brilliant, sleepy psych-folk such as "Reign On" from the Bringing It All Back Home Again EP; however, that was before I had heard Widowspeak, who appeared on the scene in early 2011 with their single "Harsh Realm," a deliciously sullen bit of Mazzy-worthy navel-gazing dressed in heavily-reverbed fifties-style paranoia, which was reportedly recorded after having only played six shows together as a unit. A Brooklyn trio with roots in the Pacific Northwest, Widowspeak belie these origins by conjuring a Southern California Paisley vibe, while giving it their own twist by cutting it with the kind of fifties and early-sixties musical references that would make David Lynch proud, as well as introducing a subtle but gritty Garage-Rock element, both of which lend Widowspeak a bit more sonic variation than what can be found in the iconic sound of their obvious main influence.

Lead-singer and rhythm guitarist Molly Hamilton:
"I think during the first practice, in my apartment, we talked about the 50′s- Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, early Elvis, and we initially wanted the band to have that sound. I don’t think that happened, but that first practice was cool because all of our weird obsessions came out. Michael and I share an encyclopedic knowledge of the grunge era because of our Northwest upbringings, as well as a love for the Sonics and 60′s garage. Rob’s more into the 70′s, Television and the Stones. Rob and I love Pavement, but Michael is crazy and prefers Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks.  We all dig the Velvet Underground.  I also listen to a lot of really old country and blues and 90′s pop music. We cover “Wicked Game,” but we’ve also talked about covering the Cranberries and the Carter Family, if that says anything about how weird our influences are."

While it is the band's memorable cover of Chris Isaak's classic David Lynch-inspired slow-burner "Wicked Game" that has created much of the buzz surrounding Widowspeak in the early-going, it is actually their beautifully crestfallen self-titled debut album that is most deserving of attention. Admittedly, throughout the course of the album, the ghost of Mazzy Star is almost always within earshot (especially in relation to the lead vocals); however, Molly Hamilton, Michael Stasiak and Robert Earl Thomas never succumb to pure tributary. Instead, by deftly integrating a range of distinguishing influences and emotions, Widowspeak  is able to stake out its own sonic territory, thus earning the right to be heard on its own terms. The lead track, "Puritan," is a case in point; while for much of the song, Hamilton seems to be channeling Hope Sandoval to an uncanny degree, she also occasionally adds unpredictable phrasings to her vocals that lend the song a distinctly non-Mazzy glimmer of emotional lightness. This, coupled with Thomas' Morricone meets surf-rock guitar-style, allows Widowspeak to offer up a glimpse of what might make them truly unique down the road. Likewise, on their second single, "Gun Shy," the band adopts a more upbeat, hook-filled approach, thus finally providing Hamilton with a vehicle for transcending the chorus of Sandoval comparisons, something she takes advantage of to great affect. At first blush, it is tempting to embrace Widowspeak simply for softening the sting associated with Mazzy Star's sixteen years of silence, but on closer inspection, the quality of the songs and the album's range of material both suggest that Widowspeak have more on their minds than playing the role of pysch-folk surrogates.

(Captured Tracks ~ 2011)

 1. Puritan  (2:56)
 2. Harsh Realm  (2:47)
 3. Nightcrawlers  (2:51)
 4. In the Pines  (3:50)
 5. Limbs  (3:27)
 6. Gun Shy  (3:54)
 7. Hard Times  (2:59)
 8. Fir Coat  (2:38)
 9. Half Awake  (3:03)
10. Ghost Boy  (4:45)

Harsh Realm EP 
(Captured Tracks ~ 2011)

1. Harsh Realm  (2:47)
2. Burn Out  (2:28)

Gun Shy EP 
(Captured Tracks ~ 2011)

1. Gun Shy  (3:54)
2. Wicked Game  (4:12)


  1. I am looking forward to listening to this. Thank you!

  2. Me too - as always your write ups are mouth watering.

  3. Thank you for this discovery! ... Listening to "Nightcrawlers" (strangely thought of A. Calvi for a second, and then Mazzy Star) ... Already like this for so many reasons! Merci!

  4. Appick, thank you! Compliments never grow old :)

  5. Issi, you're welcome. I'm in love with this album too

  6. I litteraly didn't know this band! I knew a bit about the label, but this one really got under my radar. Thanks a lot for this discovery... and your words. Merci.

  7. Musaklee, thank you for commenting! This band is one of my favorite new discoveries. I like it more every time I listen to it

  8. Voixautre, you sir have done a great thing by introducing us all to this band! I've been playing it nonstop the past few days.

  9. DeSelby, thank you for the comment. Hearing that pleases me to no end. I've been playing this one a lot as well.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.