Swamps, the new EP from Widowspeak (guitarist and vocalist Molly Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas) is a different beast to their previous work. Sophomore album ‘Almanac’ sent the band to something of stratospheric heights, dreamy and dramatic, full of shattering zeal and vibrant explorations of the fretboard. Swamp is still distinctly Widowspeak, Molly’s birdlike swooning vocals enveloped in dense layers of guitar and haze, but whereas Almanac was delivered ferocity and assertion, things seem a little more subdued and accepting on this stop gap EP. It’s almost as though, what was once languid and dreamy, has given way to a sense of lethargy. There’s none of the dense chaos or dizzying crescendos that made songs such as The Dark Age and Dyed In The Wool sparkle, and the whole thing is distinctly more laid back.
But that’s not to say that it is a bad record, just perhaps more of a solipsistic than stimulating one, certainly one requiring more effort to engage with. Still a sound of vespertine clouds and feathery vibrations, it seems that challenging times are behind the desolate consciousness that pervades. ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ shuffles and skiffles throughout, almost transient in style, the springy quivers that punctuate its latter half being one of those examples of stand alone sounds that really stand out. ‘Calico’ is a sweet and perceptive evaluation, not of the fabric of clothes, but the state of a decaying relationship, where ‘the house was a good one, but the yard was overgrown’ and Brass Bed is a bluesy track that could veer on whimsy were it not for the acerbic delivery of sardonic lyrics “baby can we play dead, laying in our brass bed”. ‘True Believer’ is a true highlight, brooding and brash at alternate times, a haunting landscape channeled through delicate fret picking, lustful slide guitar and smoldering vocals.
It’s a tough record, that takes time. ‘Swamps’ is an apt name for this collection of seven songs. It’s deep, and dense, and challenging to wade through. Somehow they have managed to be both austere and dripping in dimensions, meaning it’s all a little bewildering. But once you get to the other side, well, you’ve achieved something grand.