By Sam Houghton
The first time I saw these guys was at one of those hip Todd P extravaganzas, down with the rats and the poor audio equipment and stinging Majorska shots that really made me feel apart of something progressive and substantial and moving. I was primed with a punk fever to go bash on some indie bands decked down in faded flower dresses – nothing more progressive than the abundance of dull but fashionable crooners to really get the excitement flowing through the blood veins – when suddenly the hollow and rattling ripple from the guitar hit my eardrums and I nearly wet my drawers. Reverb. Chilling echoes. Sweet, haunting riffs: The surf guitar, without all that Beach Boy weirdness, is making an astonishing comeback in the underground… and it is wonderful!
The singer, with her fragile yet powerful voice, seemed a bit on edge for the show, perhaps from the rats, but somehow it only helped to build on the intimacy. The three-piece was huddled close together, and the crowd huddling closer to catch the cool vibes. The guitarist was brilliant: nothing extreme or bashful, just wicked surf riffs, letting the singer work her vocal ranges in-between the waves.
On this record, a handful of months later and their debut full-length, Widowspeak nails the sound of the pop-wave, indie aesthetic, perfectly: clean; fragile but full; humble but hip. Pitchfork will go nuts over this one, giving it maybe a 7.4, maybe a 7.2, taking off points for unoriginality. Judging at how well their music hits upon that indie aesthetic, you would think there were hundreds of these bands in Brooklyn, but for some reason there aren’t, and Widowspeak will be garnishing a fresh supply of fans with the release of the album (August 2). Nothing like a Brooklyn band to capture the Brooklyn sound.
Widowspeak features a young seductress on the lead vocals, with the surf guitarist and a very simple, vintage drummer. They are a stripped down Raveonettes on major downers, continuing down the path built by the Young Marble Giants. They are a grittier Best Coast; a better xx. The 30 minute debut album features some gnarly stuff.
After beginning with the only real upbeat number, “Puritan,” a true “catch a wave” track with a drum beat from the Ventures, the album takes a slow turn into the doldrums of despair and heartache. It will dwell there for the majority of the ten tracks. The guitar leads the way through, a very 50s vintage style: dark and slow, and reverb heavy. In the highlights of the album, like “Nightcrawler” and “Halfawake,” the guitar is done perfectly, rattling to the core of the bones, rippling with eerie, blue smoke, and harking upon clear and cool, moonlit nights. It reeks of heroin. Instead of jamming the songs with extraneous noises, he sticks with a subtle but stinging attack. He leaves space to the songs, creating a rich and full sound. But key to the uniqueness of Widowspeak, the guitar serves as a sort of blank canvas for the singer to really let her voice radiate and take off.
The singer, on songs like “In the Pines,” has a yearning voice, like Reponsil in her tower – waiting, seductive and out of reach. Her voice is teasing yet innocent; lazy and shy yet invigorating. Often the vocals are layered or she will fill in with some backing tracks, protruding her voice over the cool guitar fills. The vocal tracks are mixed very smoothly, her voice standing out and booming. She, respectfully so, does not hide in effects or reverb, like many lo-fi bands that lose their potency in the chaos.
The only downfall to the album is that it’s been done before. The British band xx did it a few years back with their debut self-titled album. There isn’t a song on Widowspeak that is as catchy as “Crystalized,” the xx big hit. However, Widowspeak’s scope on the album stretches a much wider spectrum of concepts and is therefore more entertaining to listen to. It isn’t boring, and while it may be less catchy, it is rawer and more powerful. There are moments that pack a punch, like a 1:27 into “Ghost Boy,” that transcend catchy and linger around brilliant. That being said, there are moments in the album when things certainly drag. Most of “Ghost Boy,” until it reaches these great, wrenching clashes of drum and guitar, are sort of dull. But, when all is said and done, this is an impressive debut and will definitely put Widowspeak on a map.