After a decade of being relatively prolific (an album every other year, regular as clockwork), Widowspeak return after a three-year break with their fourth album Plum. Should fans expect a devastating volte-face in sound, or even an overhaul?
Well no, it’s more of the same.
Their last album, 2017’s Expect The Best, was dubbed as a return to the sound of their beginnings, and Plum picks up where they left off. It’s all laconically strummed guitars, occasional piano or synths, all justifying the dreaded term folky psychedelia (which seems immune to the passing of time or taste). This isn’t necessarily a criticism, as the Brooklynites now have the experience and the chops to withstand any passing trends.
Wistful romanticism sustains the order of the day. The opening title-track features pensive acoustic guitar and the comforting vocals of Molly Hamilton right in place, combined with a uniquely romantic notion (‘You’re a peach and I’m a plum’) that will reassure the listener that they should not be bracing themselves for screeching guitars and widescreen utopian. The shuffling, snappy drums of The Good Ones ensures it chugs along nicely, built around an arch, matter-of-fact guitar lick. Like most here it’s probably a minute too long, although the spooky piano at the mid-point does bring a Portishead vibe to proceedings.
Once again built around a single riff, the static drums on Money (which, you’ll be surprised to learn, ‘doesn’t grow on trees’) helps the song build gradually until percussion and guitars are in the same pitch, while the eerie, slow Breadwinner also uses the skins well, with a bristling hi-hat and intermittent drums creating an atmosphere of tension alongside the synth organ. By no means an insult, it recalls the Coldplay album Ghost Stories (i.e. the interesting one) in its dignified desperation. Even True Love is more straight-forward, featuring chiming guitars which betray the lo-fi indie opening sequence and call to mind bedfellows Real Estate in the woozy strum of electric.
At this, the mid-way point, the album takes things down a few notches. The unsettling, Mazzy Star-esque Amy threatens to explode with a menacing intro but holds its nerve whilst Hamilton takes her breathy vocals down a key. Sure Thing is sparse in featuring only vocals and dynamic chords, sounding like a driving song which is begging to open up on a highway yet the driver opts to keep it in first gear.
Jeanie is able to differentiate itself from the glacial tempo of the second half, being quite beautiful in its tenderness. Both the finger-plucked guitar and vocals are at breaking point throughout, Hamilton laying her exhaustion bare, the twin repeated lines of ‘je ne sais pas’ and ‘don’t understand’ making the song almost claustrophobic in its fragility.
Lastly, closer Y2K (remember that?) puts Hamilton’s vocals high in the mix (where they should be), whereas on other occasions it’s hard to differentiate the lyrics amidst the production. Not that this matters, the dusty emotion in her voice is guide enough.
While Plum is unlikely to win Widowspeak many new fans, it’s got an unassuming, mellow humility that can’t help but beguile and, despite the second half perhaps slowing things down over excessively, it’s a worthy addition to their oeuvre.