Widowspeak - The Jacket (Review)
Let that be enough
Welcome to my first ‘review’ in my new series, What I’m Listening To! In this series I’ll be going over my thoughts on some of my favourite albums, new and old. Because I’m only picking albums I actually like, please don’t expect any in-depth criticism - I’m not qualified to provide it, and I don’t like being mean about musicians anyway.
Today I’ll be talking about the shoegazey indie folk-rockers Widowspeak’s brand new album, The Jacket. By the way, that’s my first public attempt at assigning a genre to a band - so please don’t crucify me if I got it wrong.
Funnily enough, this is one of Widowspeak’s most refreshing records since their debut, and actually moves away from a lot of the folky elements on their earlier records (see? I’m already backtracking). It opens with While You Wait, a song that I have appropriately had on for the last few weeks in anticipation of this record being released. Immediately you can tell that Widowspeak have continued the musical evolution that’s been brewing since 2017’s dream-poppy Expect the Best. While You Wait opens not with one of Plum’s gorgeous basslines or S/T’s growling electric guitars, but an increasingly frantic synthetic flute-like beat that glides in and out between Molly Hamilton’s vocals throughout the song. And then we are pulled back in by a tumultuous distorted guitar, and this sets the scene for the rest of the album - bursts of eerily beautiful electronics and experimentation, brought back down to earth by a classic Widowspeak rock-out.
The record continues with Everything is Simple, full of fast hi-hat drums (I think) and a deep, grumbling bass that interplays with the lead guitar. A piano underscores Molly Hamilton’s vocals, and shimmering guitar and playful piano sound during the chorus’ abrupt tempo changes. The song climaxes brilliantly in the bridge with a drum beat and guitar interplay of ever-increasing speed, finished with a beautiful electric guitar flourish. Then we have Salt, a groovy song with what feels like a callback to the playful, cowboy-ish Almanac-era guitars and vocals but with a darker tone, recalling songs like Ballad of the Golden Hour, and a whole lot of texture and detailed instrumentation.
True Blue follows this, and it may be my favourite song on the record. With touching, nostalgic lyrics that perfectly elicit an inescapable sense of longing, all the song needed was a vocal performance that could deliver them - and I think this is one of Molly Hamilton’s best! The vocals begin very understated, and have a more earthly, guttural quality to them. This feels like a breakaway from the more ethereal vocals on a lot of tracks, and is a welcome one - I love shoegaze and the voice being used as an instrument, but it felt great to listen to Molly’s voice in a more isolated fashion, with the guitars taking a backseat and allowing the song’s story to burst forth.
The flourishes are still there of course, with a guitar popping its head up at the end of each chorus, and finally roaring into full swing during the bridge for a glorious solo. Listening to this for the first time was one of those moments in an album where you have to stop everything you’re doing and just listen - and that cemented The Jacket as one of my favourite Widowspeak records to date.
This continued throughout the record, with guitar solos rearing their head on songs like The Drive, with its rolling drums and synths perfectly complimenting the fuzzy guitar solo, and Forget It where the guitar plays alongside wavering angelic synths. Slow Dance has a great build up, with its dual guitars interplaying perfectly, striking the same notes with slightly different tones throughout. Unwind is another favourite track, and again very different to anything we’ve had before from Widowspeak, with its piano and strange, whirring, violin-ish strings; it has a nice minimal feeling to it, refreshing after the title track’s gloomy lead guitar that hangs moodily over the whole song. Unwind ends with a fantastic drum break, leading into a classic shoegaze breakdown.
I know I’ve mentioned basically every song here - and that’s because I think that this is probably Widowspeak’s most consistently good album since their debut. Whereas some of their albums have had the odd forgettable song mixed in with various bangers, here there are no duds. Each track has a fantastic hook, or a searing guitar solo, or a perfectly ominous sense of shoegaze doom. It’s just good music - groovy, experimental, and with killer solos, basslines, and drum beats throughout. Its lyrics are just the right level of sentimental, with Molly remembering lost loved ones on True Blue and singing “Let that be enough” until she believes it on Slowdance - proving, with the introduction of a roaring solo, that all you need is a moment like this, where you let the music overtake you just for a minute and forget about everything else.
More than anything else, the band feels like it’s having fun. It shines through with their vocal and instrumental experimentation, without losing what makes the band so good. While 2015’s All Yours stripped everything back, paving the way for dreamy songs on Expect the Best, this album reintroduces what I love most about Widowspeak; solid bluesy song progressions and noisy choruses and mid-song implosions, as if you’re listening to This Will Destroy You crash an Angel Olsen gig. And still, they keep just the right amount of the last few years’ absolute best forays into more electronic elements; it has the haunting beats of Y2K, undoubtedly my favourite Plum song, and callbacks to some of Expect the Best’s strongest dreamy vocals. All this combines to create a fun, cohesive, and very refreshing album from one of my favourite bands.
Note: guesses at what instruments I was hearing verified by my very patient girlfriend, who knows far more about music than I do