There’s a lot to be said for good sleepy music. Because not every day is a Japandroids day, and nobody ever said spending the day indoors with coffee was a bad idea. 2012 was a banner year in this category – we had The xx’s sad sack nap adventure Coexist, Best Coast’s ode to Cali lethargy The Only Place, and El Ten Eleven’s glorious post-rock snoozer Transitions.
It’s only January 2013, but we might already have our tranquilizer dart of the year in Widowspeak’s glorious sophomore effort, Almanac. It’s an album with all sorts of great vibe – wispy and mysterious, ethereal and enchanting. Imagine, if you will, Beach House and Mazzy Star collaborating on a Legend of Zelda soundtrack; perhaps bringing in Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros to apply the finishing touches. Aaaaand you have Almanac, an album that finds the happy atmospheric medium between the beach, the desert, a West Virginia mountain pass, and a Medieval Times festival. Oh, and the apocalypse.
I specifically bring up Zelda because my favorite track on Almanac, “Thick as Thieves,” reminds me of “Song of Storms” from Ocarina of Time in all the right ways.
Almanac succeeds as a masterpiece of sleepy wistfulness for its ability to put you in a comfortable trance and keep you there, while never settling for the comfort of sonic boredom. It’s certainly varied enough to pique your interest from start to finish, although Almanac’s variance is hardly its strongest selling point: Thematically – both on a melodic and lyrical level – Almanac is eerie as crap.
And that’s a good thing, at least when eerie is the intent. And considering the apocalyptic subject matter of most of the songs here, I would say it’s a fair bet that’s the case. Molly Hamilton’s voice is a perfect complement to the reverb-happy instrumentation, and the combined product sounds like the ghosts of a thousand souls riding a forest breeze.
“Perennials” is as good of a tonesetter as you could ask for to kick off the album, and by the time Hamilton starts chanting “I’m afraid nothing lasts/nothing lasts long enough,” you should have a good idea of what you’re getting into. There’s enough Brand New in the lyrics to “The Dark Age” to make it one of the more cryptic songs on the album, but the theme it conveys of being stuck in the darkness and not really wanting to leave is universal enough to cut to any listener’s core.
The aforementioned “Thick as Thieves” is, a few paragraphs later, still the best and creepiest track on the album. It’s essentially a narrative of packing up and switching lives, and the verse that begins “Saw the forest for the trees…” gets me every time.
By the time you hit “Ballad of the Golden Hour,” a surfy builder that evokes the bittersweet nostalgia of time marching on, you might have noticed that Widowspeak LOVES using idioms, another cryptic trait that adds to the mystery surrounding Almanac.
The second half of the album is no less excellent than the first, even if subtlety takes the reigns a little more. It’s capped by the brooding album closer “Storm King,” which leaves the listener feeling like an actual storm is actually coming. Probably bringing the end of the world with it.
– If you need more melatonin: (1) get out in the sun more, (2) buy supplements, or (3) listen to this album.
– The end is near, but at least it sounds pretty.
– If reverb is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
(2) Dyed in the Wool
(3) The Dark Age
(4) Thick as Thieves
(6) Ballad of the Golden Hour
(12) Storm King