Young Widows – Settle Down City

4 out of 5

Label: Jade Tree

Produced by: Young Widows (?)

Hardcore punkers Breather Resist lost singer Steve Sindoni and soldiered on as a threesome, rightfully decided to change their band name – to Young Widows – when their sound had clearly shifted. As a trio, Evan Patterson – guitar, and taking over vocals – bassist Nick Thieneman, and drummer Geoff Paton still create an incredible rattle, with the intensity and speed of Breather, but there’s an element of noise and sludge in the approach, something taking from a Touch and Go-ish / Chicago post-rock heritage (the Allmusic review mentions Jesus Lizard, and this is an excellently realized touchpoint); looking forward to the Young Widows of albums that would follow, the “clean” loud sound is in place, alongside Patterson’s haunting howl. But it’s all very amped up at this point, using momentum to overtake the quiet/loud dynamics the band would excel at going forward; it’s a unique sound, but this blend does encourage a very similar song structure for most of the album – fast-paced guitar riffage with shouted bleats of lyrics, leading to pounding drums and bass and gang vocals – until the last few tracks start to peel this away, again looking forward to the more varied arrangements the group would later explore.

But time has been incredibly kind to Settle Down City: when this first came out, it kind of sat amongst a group of similarly “loud” acts, standing out due to being pretty raw for a Jade Tree release – Breather Resist’s home, though there’s very slightly more of an emo connection there, versus Young Widows’ wall-of-noise recording style – and Patterson’s lyrical approach (small phrase, big meanings) gets lost in all the shouting. Revisiting it now, it’s not only fascinating to hear the YW sound actually quite strong throughout, but the album proves to be more long-lasting than that of punky peers at the time – the production is brutal in the best possible way; and the playing is sharp and sloppy in the most perfect balance, pushing past showiness or more simplistic riffage that other acts favored.

So it’s all the more clear, now, that this version of Young Widows was a band with incredible potential: they could have pushed further into this noisy, punky direction and made a mark; they could have – and did – evolve on a stranger blend of noise and quiet, leaving behind this rather brilliantly anarchic debut.