Review Summary: An intentionally, beautifully restricted palette
Even though Autumn is a season of absolute misery to me, there is something endearing about the summer coming to its inevitable end. I’m not talking about the alleged cosiness of constant rain (seriously, who actually enjoys that?), the reintroduction of pumpkin spiced everything (...everyone complaining about that might be more of an annoying tradition than the actual lattes, though), or the crunchy, colourful leaves (they just get wet and slippery since it’s raining all damn day
, remember?). No, I’m talking about the strange sensation of feeling nostalgic about, say, a month ago, when regular responsibilities still felt a lifetime away. I’m talking about the weirdness of experiencing warm weather while regular, stressful life starts again, knowing that the next summer is months and months away. Honestly, it sucks. Which is why the ‘endearing’ part about this exaggerated pity party has very little to do with the season itself; rather, it is being able to find some sense of comfort among this misery. Enter Plum
The new album by New York dream pop outfit Widowspeak is an incredibly soothing affair, effortlessly capturing the spirit of those final lazy summer days spent attempting to ignore the big, looming cloud known as ‘real life’. While not differing all that much from the band’s previous output, Plum
slightly shifts its focus to the 1960s and incorporates more acoustic elements and less fuzz, resulting in a clearer, brighter album. Simultaneously, all crucial dream pop elements remain intact: Molly Hamilton’s vocals are airy yet confident and guitarist Robert Thomas provides impressively catchy, laid-back instrumentation all throughout. Together, the duo occasionally fall victim to homogeneity as the album tends to blend together, which would have been a bigger issue had it not been for the sheer quality of the songs.
This excellence can be found in every small detail of Plum
. Hamilton and Thomas truly reveal themselves as experienced songwriters here, seemingly opting for the ‘less is more’-approach. Each track takes one small moment - be it a cute riff, a smart one-liner or a gentle synth melody - and confidently runs with it. ‘Amy’, for example, introduces itself with a simplistic bass line. It’s a seemingly insignificant aspect, yet ends up defining the song’s verses as the low tones gently accompany Hamilton’s airy vocals. Eventually, these brooding parts make way for shimmering guitars and gentle keys, turning what could have been perceived as an underwritten chorus (‘Amy, Amy, Amy, watched you drive away
’) into one of the record’s most uplifting moments. Similarly, ‘Sure Thing’ is built around a simple, snappy riff that forms the backbone of the song, yet does not feel redundant at any point.
It’s an impressive accomplishment: when paying close attention, several elements can feel like they should not work as well as they do. Yet, Widowspeak manage to craft gorgeous songs out of the little they choose to work with, skillfully avoiding the seemingly inevitable, omnipresent gloom a little longer. The title track’s chorus, consisting of ‘You’re a peach / And I’m a plum
’ seems somewhat banal out of context, however, Hamilton’s breezy delivery and the wonderfully chill
instrumentation make for one of Plum
’s most touching choruses. Similarly, standout cut ‘Breadwinner’ seemingly makes a point out of being the most gorgeous track about something incredibly monotonous. Dealing with the topic of working a less-than-ideal nine to five job, it is truly remarkable that the chorus lyrics of ‘Always, always, bringing your work home
’ are as shimmeringly beautiful as they are, portrayed against a canvas of calm synths and echoing guitars. Whether or not it is meant as an attempt to appreciate the mundane, it is an undeniably beautiful song. Hell, ‘Jeannie’ exclusively features the most basic of French sentences (‘Je ne sais pas’, ‘Je ne comprends pas’) as its sole lyrics and manages to be a perfectly enjoyable cut. In anyone else’s hands this would have likely yielded laughably disastrous results, yet Hamilton and Thomas manage to make it as pleasant and endearing as the rest of the record.
is an exceptional record in that it manages to be pleasant without falling victim to complacency, as well using simplicity to showcase the band’s songwriting talents. By creating excellent, memorable tracks with a relatively restricted palette, Widowspeak truly hone their craft on this record. Ignore the dark clouds a little longer, find a way to relax: allow this highly pleasant ‘forbidden fruit’ to be your escapist guide.