The lone violet lava lamp on the cover of Widowspeak’s fourth full-length, Expect The Best, is a fitting analog to the nine-song collection within: mesmerizingly introspective, nakedly nostalgic. Here Widowspeak continues its exploration of dreamy, ’90s-indebted “cowboy grunge,” à la Opal or Mazzy Star, leaning a bit harder into the latter thanks to the inclusion of its full touring band in the creative process, and to singer-lyricist Molly Hamilton’s pondering of darker, rawer emotions.
Two years ago, the ambitious, deliberate All Yours saw the duo of Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas leave Brooklyn for a cabin in Upstate New York, crafting songs that had a pronounced vulnerability, and with a heavier emphasis on pop hooks. On Expect The Best, Widowspeak returns to the looseness of its earlier output but drops even more of its guard, and the band’s ever-present nostalgia becomes a deeper autobiographical commentary on the passage of time and expectations.
Leaving the rest of the band in Brooklyn, Hamilton recently moved back home to Washington State and, in addition to dealing with the ambivalence over her homecoming, started confronting the restlessness that drove her there. These new songs repeatedly talk about “cutting out” and “leaving for real this time,” and capture a particularly modern brand of alienation: Both the shoegaze-y lead single, “Dog,” and the sludgy title track contend with the exasperating effects of social media on everyday anxieties. On “When I Tried,” Hamilton admits her struggle to maintain motivation: “I was more alive when I tried / But you can’t try all the time.” Still, as wholly as Expect The Best surrenders to its sense of isolation and drift, it longs to make a connection.
Every Widowspeak record is exceptionally intimate, but emphasizing the four-piece band’s live chemistry for the first time gives Expect The Best an earthier, more lived-in feel than earlier efforts. With songs like “Warmer,” it seeks something tangible and “closer to the truth,” then allows itself to wander as long as it needs to find it on molten jams like “Fly On The Wall.” At just 36 minutes, the album is a beautiful—if brief—daydream of what it means to live through a funk, and a testament to how finally airing those feelings allows us to start moving through them.