Widowspeak recorded their second album in a 100-year-old barn in New York’s Hudson River Valley in that exquisite dusk between summer and autumn. You can hear it, too. The first track, ‘Perennials’, starts with heavy rainfall and puts its preoccupation with seasons and the ephemera of the natural world centre stage, all through a fug of nostalgia. These guys put the past in pastoral.
When Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas began writing this album, the theme was the supposed apocalypse forecast by the Mayans. But things soon took a detour. “Ashes to ashes”, repeats Molly, in her signature breathy vocal, on ‘Sore Eyes’. A mournful gloom hangs over proceedings, and decay is a theme they return.
Although the Brooklyn band shed their third member before making this record, ‘Almanac’ sounds sonically richer than their debut. Lashings of reverb and experimentation with acoustic instruments draw the music into something much more evocative. ‘Dyed In The Wool’ features sultry slide guitar, ‘Perennials’ rides a gut-grabbing riff. The Mazzy Star influence remains, but now The Cars, Neil Young, Appalachian melodies, desert rhythms and ’50s ballads all loom as recognisable influences, meaning ‘Almanac’ feels altogether less easy to place in a particular time.
There are songs about mountains, there are songs about rivers. There are cricket noises (‘Minnewaska’) and roosting pigeons (‘Thick As Thieves’). But where most bands who take a ramble about nature come off feeling terribly twee, ‘Almanac’ recognises the essential grittiness of nature. Widowspeak don’t dream of the outside world from a safe, warm place. They open up that old barn and kick some mud through the door.