Some people say that the second album from a band is the one that really defines the rest of their career; they can either make an album with the mere intention of pleasing fans and critics or they can actually release a second effort as a statement of evolution and progress, musically speaking.
Almanac, the sophomore of Brooklyn duo, Widowspeak, puts the band in the latest category with an album full of songs that show important improvement in the sound of the band, but blurs the vision of a definite path to follow. While the first part of the album is a perfect example of how to make an Americana record that fits the taste of hungry ears that consume anything labeled as indie, the second one serves as a sound lab where Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas experiment and mix elements from other genres, venturing slightly from the first half of the album.
But don’t let the album art deceive you; as sunny as it might seem, Almanac sounds like some kind of post-apocalyptic soundtrack for a walk in a wood painted yellow and brown by the autumn. It has some dashes of extreme joy, but the main feeling throughout the whole album is longing. Hamilton’s voice blows through all the songs like a kite in the wind; carried with no difficulty, it’s the only link between one song and the next. The guitars have acquired more prominence since their last album and are competing in a friendly way with the voice.
The opener, “Perennials”, resembles the feeling of finding an old record and removing the dust from it. It introduces us to the sonic landscape of the band; a marvelous guitar comes in in the first few seconds and by then you’re already hooked. Hamilton’s voice hits like the snap of fingers that instead of waking you from hypnosis, would lull you in a deeper trance.
Listening to Hamilton’s voice, Ennio Morricone will come to mind a few times from this point on, and that resemblance won’t leave until “Thick as Thieves”, where Nancy Sinatra would be the right comparison. The title track is one of the simplest, but more stunning tracks on the album. If you felt like there was nothing to sing along to in Almanac, Widowspeak proves you wrong with this one; the line “We could never stay forever” is catchy as any Top 40 pop song. In “Ballad of the Golden Hour”, Thomas delivers one of the most daring melodies on the album.
“Devil Knows” uses some grunge-like guitars and is the first one of many “experimental songs” that are about to come. The sounds of crickets and strange howling lost in the distance are elements that we find in the second half of Almanac. It closes the with “Storm King”, a beautiful song that sums up all the emotions touched in the album and that works like a perfect transition between Almanac‘s world and ours.
Almanac is certainly not a perfect album. It may lack very strong songs and obvious singles. It certainly does not contain a hit that could launch Widowspeak‘s career into indie stardom. If you’re not in the mood for creaky haunted houses, then this is not an album for you. The one thing the duo must be proud of is that they are taking chances, borrowing elements and influences of other genres to incorporate into their characteristic dreamy-western sound, resulting in a very intriguing mix that evokes the feeling of gazing at a very old sepia-toned picture of someone you don’t know.