Young Widows – In and Out of Youth and Lightness

3 out of 5

Label: Temporary Residence

Produced by: Kevin Ratterman

You know what this album is missing?  Kurt Ballou.

Which is totally unfair, as My Morning Jacket producer Ratterman – and the band – had to grow together on this album in order to produce the masterpiece followup of ‘Easy Pain.’  But the live sound that’s absent on ‘In and Out’ that was allowed back in as full volume on that disc is exactly the quality Ballou got from the get-go; while this disc undeniably sounds like Widows (and rocks like them at select moments), either through Ratterman’s hand or the band’s hungry eyes for his back catalogue or a combination of both, the extra studioness that’s wound through the album, pretty much from start to finish, nudges the band in some interesting directions – most notably a Black Mountain-esque drone on tracks like ‘The Muted Man’ – but also carves off their edge.  Which wouldn’t be so offensive except for when their volume inevitably blows a track up (in the best of ways), only to be un-backed up by some poor sequencing and a more even-keeled mix than offered on their previous releases.

Now again, I need to back off, because “offensive” is a pretty hefty term and this is still a good disc.  And some of the experiments do pay off.  The slow burn opener ‘Young Rivers’ is a perfect lead-in to the blast of ‘Future Heart,’ and it shows how Ratterman’s experience with warmth and depth can / could enrich that cavernous pummel of the Widows.  ‘In and Out of Lightness’ has an aggressive build-up that takes advantage of the same, with the added layer of some well-chosen tonal counterpoint vocals from Amber Estes.  Yes, I’m with you: at this point, the album is pretty fantastic.  And ‘Lean On the Ghost’ seems to keep the trend going…  Except it goes too long.  And it introduces a stylistic swerve that pops up again on ‘Muted Man’ and, unfortunately, on close ‘In and Out of Youth,’ where the group picks a unique syncopation or hook and then plays it into the ground, rising and swelling but not really changing anything.  YW’s growth from their first disc to their second was this sudden understanding of how to ratchet an already ratcheted-up track via some structural surprise, something that felt totally organic and in-the-moment.  A trick which, yes, is repeated on ‘Easy Pain.’  But ‘Youth’ is like the drone version of ‘Settle Down City;’ whereas that disc figured that volume meant being loud all the time, this album seems to figure on slow and steady winning the race, and with two tracks in the disc’s middle plying that trade, it drags the experience down.  ‘Right in the End’ is this album’s ‘The Guitar,’ clear, striking, short and sweet… but it’s not a the diamond in the rough that the sequencing of ‘Old Wounds’ offered; here it follows the plodding middle, and so seems too brief to make an effect.  Thankfully the album returns with the rocking ‘Miss Tambourine Wrist’ and the off-kilter ‘White Golden Rings,’ which has Jeremy McMonigle stumbling across his drums but making it sound awesome.

And for the record, any given track on here is excellent.  But taken all together it feels longer than it should, and the rounded production makes it less bold than it probably sounds live, and it simply doesn’t have the same surging drive as the albums that came before and after.

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