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July 22, 2013 at 11:00 AM
Album review: True Widow “Circumambulation” (Relapse)
Cheekily but accurately, Texan trio True Widow calls its downcast, desolate style “stonegaze.” A curious choice for a summer release, the band’s third album, “Circumambulation,” out Tuesday, is introvert musical noir best enjoyed after-hours in a pitch-dark room, or on a lonesome all-night drive.
Spartan, mantra-like and super-serious in nature, the eight-song LP carries a certain uniformity that sometimes makes its 45-minute running time seem longer, yet the presence of two distinctly different vocalists — guitarist Dan Phillips and bassist Nicole Estill — lends color and contrast, keeping it from ever sounding too bleak.
Phillips’ stoic, disaffected drawl drives the album’s foreboding opening one-two, “Creeper” (listen) and “S:H:S.” When Estill takes over on lead single “Four Teeth” (listen), her airy, comforting lilt feels like a break in the clouds. Propulsive, jangly B-side “HW:R” (listen) is another standout, suggesting the pair ought to duet more often.
Throughout “Circumambulation,” the band uses repetition to build intensity, the friction between Phillips’ sinewy riffs and Estill’s resonant low-end creating a deeply menacing effect. Drummer Timothy Starks’ metronomical timekeeping exercises great restraint, turning slightly harder-hitting moments into full-blown catharses.
As each song segues into the next, cymbal clatter melds with field recordings of rain and thunder that give the record a rural, nocturnal atmosphere as opposed to simply acting as surface noise.
Considering True Widow’s preceding albums — 2008’s eponymous debut, and 2011’s absurdly-titled “As High as the Highest Heavens and From the Center to the Circumference of the Earth” — followed similar structural and sonic templates, listeners already familiar might’ve hoped for grander evolutionary steps from “Circumambulation.”
Still, it’s an excellent introduction for new fans, and another solid entry in a catalog that merits consideration as one of the modern American underground’s more original.
Stream the whole album here.
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