So successful are Widowspeak in conjuring a downbeat vista of overcast Americana that unavoidable Hope Sandoval vocal comparisons become avoidable; dream-pop labels come unstuck; shoegazers take in the starry night sky; cries of ‘too much tremolo!’ are lost in a prairie wind. The Brooklyn band has taken a step further into hazy terrain than on their eponymous début. Creating an overall atmosphere is the goal – on ‘Almanac’ the vocals have receded and become enmeshed with the music in such a way that they form one cohesive mass of atmospheric fuzz. Largely it is impossible to attempt to disentangle them from one another. Nor would you want to.
Perennials opens the album with a static crackling, out of which a wavering guitar riff emerges and buoyantly chimes over the muted backdrop. Soft vocals merge with the instrumental layers, enveloping each other until one is indistinguishable from the other. The tone is set for the journey, and after taking a few songs to find its feet the album’s mid-section comes languidly alive with the waltzing lament of Thick As Thieves, folky and downbeat before the driving acoustic strum of Ballad of The Golden Hour. The drums push it ever onward, and as Molly Hamilton leans on the theme of transience with the coo of “We could never/ Stay forever”, a country-tinged lap-steel floats on top of it all.
Spirit Is Willing with its sauntering bass, comes on like a girl band on downers, delay-drenched slashes punctuating the surfy tremolo guitar and muted tom rolls. This device is used to better effect on Devil Knows. After a psychedelic intro, garage band style power chords take over and spar with the quivering guitar wash. The refracted shadows of Link Wray, and Dick Dale, permeate the shimmering guitar sounds throughout the album, as well as a pantheon of Western movie soundtracks and visionaries. This latter influence is most overtly realised on Sore Eyes, where an ominous drone courses underneath as the drums gently elevate it to the next high plain.
The understated triumph of ‘Almanac’ is its effortless accomplishment of subtly setting the listener in a certain dust bowl, frontier setting. The sense of place is almost tangible, yet the time frame could span a century or more. The lyrics are by and large unintelligible, a word or phrase peeking out every now and then allowing the listener to fill in the gaps, but the vocals here are just as much an equal part of the hushed timbre as each instrument. It’s a slow, grower of an album, quietly demanding your full attention as it meanders along its ambiguous journey.