From the moment I heard "Nightcrawlers," I had to hear the entire Widowspeak album. I've always been a sucker for snake-charmer vocals floating atop a bed of guitars, and this New York trio ups the ante with plenty of twang and reverb.
My first thought while listening to their full-length debut is that it recalls Mazzy Star, a band I was never crazy about; I prefer Opal, which is to say I prefer Kendra Smith's steady alto to Hope Sandoval's honeyed coo. Molly Hamilton's vocal resemblance to the latter is undeniable, but the music isn't as narcotized, so it's more to my liking, though fans of the '90s outfit may feel otherwise.
Not on the album.
According to the Other Musicmailing list, an essential source for new release information, two Widowspeak members used to work at the venerable NYC retailer, which adds to their appeal. Doug Mosurock's review also compares them to Vivian Girls, Best Coast, and Throwing Muses, which sounds about right, adding, "Sad sunshine pop is not the easiest sound to pull off, and we have heard too many bands screw it up with forgettable songs or cheesy production." Too true. (Jarvis Taveniere of Woods produced with admirable restraint.)
To that list, I would add Young Marble Giants. It's a less obvious reference point, but there's something about Michael Stasiak's spare drumming and Robert Earl Thomas's skittery guitar playing that brings the British band to mind, even if Widowspeak never strips things down that far, but nor are they quite as direct as Best Coast, another act that earns my respect more than my affection.
I wish I could, but I can't make a case for Widowspeak as one of the year's unique records. It isn't, but the three-piece holds their own with fellow travelers Dum Dum Girls, La Sera, and Frankie Rose and the Outs. And for better or worse, "In the Pines" isn't a cover. Better because that blues standard has seen more than enough covers, worse because they could've chosen a more original title. It's lovely otherwise. Much like the rest of this album.
Fun fact: Hamilton grew up in Tacoma, Stasiak in Lakewood.