Review Summary: Young Widows get in the mood.
In the lead-up to In and Out of Youth and Lightness, Young Widows guitarist/vocalist Evan Patterson emphasized one thing more than anything else: mood. Repeatedly he mentioned his desire to create a mood, to create something cohesive and meaningful.
That desire is immediately apparent on the new album. Though lead single “Future Heart,” while showcasing a cleaner, more mature approach than past endeavors, was still a rather straight-forward, full tilt jam, the majority of the other tracks are more purposeful, drawn-out affairs. The overall effect is, well, ‘moody.’ Even if you didn’t know they’re specific musical preferences, you can see the effects of a growing appreciation for classic rock, material dating back to the 70’s and 80’s (at least from guitarist/vocalist Evan Patterson). Not only is it evident in the moodier tone they've crafted; that appreciation has led to the creation of their most well-rounded work.
Granted, the album appeals to my deeper sensibilities more than it may for others. It is a “whole” album, something that flows throughout, with an interconnected feel where songs adjacent to each other are compatible and complementing. They aren’t just tracks; each one is an individual slice of a greater whole, with each slice’s intricacies resembling or complementing those of the other slices and maintaining the basic principles of the whole. It seems like a basic concept; that’s what an album is. But in our time, that seems like a road less traveled than it was, and rarely do bands do it this well.
Before I go further, allow me to comment on the music itself for my “tl;dr” generation. Everything Young Widows tries here works well, though not all perfectly. The sinister atmosphere, whether created by the extended buildup of “Young Rivers” or the stagger and howl of “The Muted Man,” is an ever-present shadow. The instrumental work is outstanding. Nick Thieneman’s bass dominates the senses throughout, pulverizing in the right spots, accentuating when needed. Patterson’s vocals are much-improved, a result of the growing confidence he rightfully has in it, and his guitar is even better at creating the mood he seeks. The live feel is still present, though in a different fashion, the more raw sound created by Kurt Ballou replaced by a cleaner, more fitting atmosphere aided by Kevin Ratterman.
The album can be broken down into smaller sections for better analysis, with the songs being divided up 4-3-2. Fortunately, this feel leaves no weak sections. The afore-mentioned “Future Heart,” which had garnered a somewhat mixed reaction (it does sound too much like a single), fits in perfectly in the second slot, just after the sinister bass thump and absolutely stellar evolution of “Young Rivers” and before the esoteric journey of second single “In and Out of Lightness.” “Lean on the Ghost” may cause a few listeners to disengage, as its length isn’t done quite as well as some of other tracks, but the slack is picked immediately in what follows.
What follows is the best section. “Right in the End,” the shortest song and an unexpected ray of sunshine, feels like it shouldn’t work. Sandwiched in between best-track nominees “The Muted Man” and “Miss Tambourine Wrist,” though, it’s a shockingly powerful emotional refill of your emptying glass. As for the third section, it is dominated by closer “In and Out of Youth,” an absolutely gorgeous outro, a perfect bookend to “Young Rivers.” It is the last piece of a exceptionally-well put together puzzle, and it fits just right.
In and Out of Youth and Lightness may not be the album a number of older fans, fans who know of the late Breather Resist and enjoyed the more Jesus Lizard comparison invoking incarnation of Young Widows, wanted. However, they have given fans the album that they wanted to make, and that will always be the right choice. Music should always be evolving, as bands hone their sound and find their voice. In doing that, Young Widows have crafted their most complete, ambitious, and best album thus far.