A pattern has emerged in Widowspeak‘s albums. Their self-titled debut was stripped back, deliciously haunting dream-folk – or what they characterize as cowboy grunge, dream country, or earthtone pop. Almanac saw Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas III aim higher, adopting a more widescreen approach to transform the dreamy music into an ethereal experience. Their 2015 full-length, the engrossing All Yours, was a return to “basics”, channeling the lush fantasies of Mazzy Star. For their fourth album, Widowspeak go bigger and bolder, and the result is one of the year’s dreamiest and most dazzling albums.
Expect the Best is a piece of breathtaking cinema. Or more accurately, it is a 36-minute concept album that feels like a short film taken from the imagination of Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy). Its heroine is someone we know, and she enters a world that is one part fantasy and another part reality in pursuit of finding something or someone. It might be love, herself, or adventure. Whatever it may be, Widowspeak invite us into their delirium with the stunning “Dream”. As Thomas’ dissonant guitar leads the dreamy country-grunge progression, Hamilton’s angelic vocals – which are as captivating and awe-inspiring as Hope Sandoval – intoxicate the listener.
“There is a place where every else wants to be
What do you wanna be?“
The answer comes immediately on the gorgeous rocker, “When I Tried”. Hamilton eloquently coos, “I was more like an actress”, in the chorus while Thomas’ guitar sears in the background. It becomes clearer that the heroine is a drifter and a chameleon with nowhere to call home. Her portrait is further revealed on the gorgeous “Dog”. Like man’s best friend, Hamilton sings about the restlessness that boils inside our heroine and her desire to find somewhere to call home. When she finds it, it’s ripped away from her. “I want to stay. I want to stay”, repeats Hamilton with an extra urgency in her voice while Thomas’s tremolo guitar rips through the air with intensity and edge.
The tantalizing and brooding “Warmer” possesses a film-noir seduction, as Hamilton’s storytelling matches the bone-chilling environment. She whispers at the beginning, “You’re getting warmer, circling the souls.” Later she tells us, we’re “in the basement. Close your eyes. Close your mind.” What happens next is unknown, but the short and melancholic “Good Sport” indicates that the end has not arrived for the protagonist. “I’ve never been a good sport”, sings Hamilton with a distant tremble in her voice. On this occasion, however, she tells us, “I’m not going to sit this one out”, as if she has unfinished business to do.
The resurgence is heard on the rhythm-driven “Let Me”. The song is as close to an anthem as Widowspeak create: it begins with their trademark ethereal quality before building into a jaw-dropping maelstrom of wonderful noise. It is fire, fury, and beauty all in one, and the track perfectly represents the woman seeking revenge. A moment of triumph is felt on the cool dream-rocker “Right On”. It is that moment when the heroine walks through town with her head held high, and no one will stop her.
The gritty yet surprisingly seductive “Expect the Best” is the aftermath. Our heroine has found someone and somewhere to settle down. Hamilton sings with a sultry flair, “I make a move to close the door. What did you even leave it open for?” But was this all just a dream? Did even happen? This uncertainty rains on the closer, “Fly on the Wall”. As Thomas fires crystalline strike after strike and Hamilton repeats, “It was nothing“, delirium ensues, and we’re left feeling like we’re spiraling down the rabbit hole. It is a fantastic ending to an album that as a whole feels like a fantasy.
This fantasy, however, is more real than fiction. The character’s stories are also Hamilton’s tales. She wrote the songs after moving back home to Tacoma after spending years in Brooklyn. Yet in their trademark fashion, Widowspeak have created an album that sweeps us away and allows us to escape reality. It makes us believe that we, too, can find redemption just as the unknown heroine has. They make us believe that life can be as beautiful as the movies if we look hard enough.
Widowspeak are Molly Hamilton (vocals/guitar) and Robert Earl Thomas III (guitar) with Willy Muse (bass) and James Jano (drums). The entire four-piece will commence a North American tour on September 8th in Boston. This leg of the tour will last five weeks before the band heads the UK for a week in November. Find details here.
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