Like the great artists during Laurel Canyon’s heyday, dream-pop duo Widowspeak brilliantly capture the stories of everyday individuals on their stunning fifth album, ‘Plum’.
Since their formation exactly a decade, Widowspeak have emerged as one of the pre-eminent dream-pop / dream-folk bands on the planet. Their music ranges from late-’60s / early-’70s Laurel Canyon to mid-’80s dark pop, where every song possesses a warm, even breathless effect. But like the music of these eras, there is much more to singer-songwriter and vocalist Molly Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas’ sound. As they’ve gotten older, their songs have increasingly become vignettes of the times and even quiet protests. On their fifth LP, Plum, they unveil their most poignant and enrapturing album, and it arrives just in time.
The initial singles from the record, “Breadwinner” and “Money”, poetically address the entrapment of capitalism. As an uneasy calmness emerges, the former describes the monotonous, thankless hours spent plugging away at work. Immediately, Hamilton through her soft, honeyed voice, tells those who have been broken:
“Babe, you gotta quit that job
’Cause your boss is a jerk”.
Her words resonate even more now with so many people rethinking work – from unemployment to working from home to the sacrifices needed just to put bread on the table. The latter, meanwhile, is a gorgeous yet powerful ballad. The duo’s effortless, breezy, summery dream-pop is fully displayed. Beneath the chest-swelling melody and Hamilton’s stirring vocals reside her sharp lyrics. With the deftness of Joni Mitchell, she immediately asks, “Will you get back what you put in?”. She knows the answer, however: our greed has no limits.
While these two tracks are timely and relevant, “Plum” evokes a similar restlessness. As Thomas’ underlying guitar track swirls like a late-summer evening at the cabin, Hamilton lushly sings about the never-ending to search to finding a home in an ever-changing world. Not “Even True Love” is enough to convince one to stay put. With a psych-folk approach that feels like a late-summer evening’s trip through the desert, Thomas’ chiming guitar cuts through the gentle rattling of the rhythms. Hamilton, meanwhile, softly and sensually offers a lesson that even true love must be reciprocated. It requires an unrivaled investment for it to blossom.
“What you had all along, and what you pick
In the deepest wells, in the shallow sick
I can see you shaking in the great unknown
Will you learn to live with what you chose?”
Similar, poignant stories litter the rest of the album. An engrossing darkness stutters through “The Good Ones”. A piercing light, however, glimmers in the form of Thomas’ shoegaze-touched guitar and Hamilton’s intoxicating voice. She is like a priest conducting a sermon and telling her congregation that they are one of the few who see the light. The lo-fi “Amy” and “Jeannie” capture the innocence of two individuals wanting nothing more than to forget about the recent past. Hamilton’s voice on the former turns ghostly to reflect the sorrow in the heroine’s mind. The latter is more introspective, as Hamilton repeats in French and English that she does not understand what is going on.
Widowspeak, though, never answer the riddles that occupy the various characters’ minds. She can only instead advise to people to “take it slow”, as she sings on the dream-folk ballad, “Y2K”. The album’s ultimate track depicts the present like the final days of 1999. At such time, people panicked at the thought of what a new century would bring. They feared what the future may bring. In the end, however, people endured and survived. Similarly, Widowspeak in their absorptive ways tell us we will endure and see better days again, and it begins with taking a bit from their beautiful Plum.
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