5 out of 5
Label: Temporary Residence
Producer: Kevin Ratterman (recorded and mixed)
Thank goodness. Widows’ debut was an uneven splash of throaty post-punk, with delightfully vile lyrics that weren’t quite as deep as they wanted to be, but vibed well with the In Your Face sound of the record. I couldn’t get much mileage out of the disc overall, but some songs definitely struck home, and it was certainly enough to make me interested to check out followup ‘Old Wounds’… and man, I’m glad I did, because that’s since become one of my favorite plays. The lyrics still didn’t quite make the mark, but lyricist Evan Patterson had smartly stripped his concepts back. So songs were rather simplistic, just a few lines or images, but it was a smarter approach than the excess that came before. Same was true of the music: the punk was dialed back, mostly, in favor of an intense hardcore sound. It’s a heavy disc, and hit in a way I hadn’t experienced in quite a while. Then, amidst some almost universally (from what I read) positive press, their next album, ‘In and Out of Youth and Lightness” dropped, and… I was disappointed. The themes had matured – Patterson wasn’t yelling anymore, and the lyrics had drawn in a patient darkness – but the music was too dreary. Tracks seem to drift into each other, and nothing much stands out to me. The production added a deep and dusky reverb, but as the songs felt repetitive to me, the impressively cavernous sound of the opening track stopped making an impact minutes into the following track. So I wasn’t sure what to expect for ‘Easy Pain.’ I’m pleased that I should’ve expected perfection.
Seemingly drawing in the best elements of everything that’s come before, ‘Easy’ drapes every song and moment in the deepest, most dire atmosphere – that goddamn reverb hits your guts in the best possible way, from the opening stretch of ‘Godman,’ the drums thundering while guitar and bass thrash against each other for a rhythm, to the climactic ‘The Last Young Widow’s final stuttering moments. Patterson’s lyrics have finally found their place in the same realm of vague evil that’s made Congleton’s best Paper Chase songs (‘Knives’ and ‘Black Heart’ era) chilly and compelling at the same time; making this delivery more effective is the way this is sung / spoken to us. Patterson’s range has been minimal on previous albums (monotone on ‘Youth’), and it’s not that he hits high notes here, but by slight changes in pace or pitch, he finds a surprising amount of nuance – ‘Cool Night’ is almost light-hearted compared to the Manson-esque croak on that final track. And while we’re not hearing the howls that popped up on ‘Settle Down’ or ‘Old Wounds,’ ‘Kerosene Girl,’ ‘Bird Feeder’ and others allow for some urgency, brought right to the edge of where you’d expect a typical song to explode but Widows hold the thing, quivering, until, again, that final track lets it all out.
And the music. Sweet mary. Don’t doubt it for a minute. The almost 80s-esque beats that start out ‘Cool Night,’ or clean tones that usher us into pitch black ‘Doomed Moon’ – nothing, not a sound on ‘Easy Pain’ is wasted or undesirable.
I’ve been listening to this album non-stop, and it has the great quality of making you say ‘just one more track…’ when you intend to switch to something else. Wherever Widows go from here, they’re no longer just the band you should check out – they’re the group who made ‘Easy Pain.’ It’s a lasting impression.