Monday, July 29, 2013

True Widow - Circumambulation (2013)

"Minimalism describes movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is set out to expose the essence or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts. Minimalism is any design or style in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect." We've all heard people use that term before, maybe even used it ourselves. Maybe not often, but sometime, somewhere. When faced with the cover art for the new album by True Widow, a three piece from Dallas, that is the first thing that came to mind. Minimalist. Mostly black, with highlights of blue around a solemn female head and hand, it took time to really take it in. Guitar, bass, drums, vocals. Not overcomplicated or over saturated, but focused and with plenty of space surrounding it; just like the artwork itself. That unity is merely the beginning for a band that have combined stoner facets with shoe gaze, without ever losing focus on accessibility. And whether it takes you one listen or twenty, "Circumambulation" is sure to give you reason to think that minimalism is making a comeback.

Stuck somewhere in the ghostly groove of "Creeper" is a band that has a very clear vision. With the music barely above a crawl and the vocals laid on top in the most haunting of ways, you find yourself hovering between a shoe gaze type of head sway and a more energetic foot tap. Slim TX, providing the drum beats, does a masterful job of changing both his rhythm and tempo, inserting syncopated elements to complement a steady guitar and bass regimen. It's a track that stays close to the main line, without drifting far from center. And while the same could be said for "S:H:S," there is a certain level of psychedelia present here that separates it from its predecessor. That haziness on the vocal lines, provided by both guitarist DH Phillips and bassist Nicole Estill will surely induce shivers in a high percentage of listeners. More than that, though, it becomes a vessel to carry you through not only the song, but the album at large. How else could you make a six minute smokey ride seem so short and so fulfilling? That ability, which permeates the entire disc, is what makes an album feel like a private live performance. And being front row, center for "Four Teeth" is a gift in and of itself. The mood changes, as Estill puts down an incredibly soothing, yet somehow sultry vocal over a simple yet satisfying groove. The metallic tapping of cymbals becomes the icing on this proverbial cake, and each kick/snare combo is nothing shy of meticulous.

There seems to be a common sonic theme running through all eight tracks, though it might take you until "Numb Hand" to truly appreciate it fully. The beauty of the minimalist approach is in the subtlety of each movement, and how profound it can be to the mix as a whole. Simple guitar strums hit harder, plucked bass strings rattle longer, and kick drums sound more forceful when they aren't buried in layer after layer of extras. This is not to be mistaken for lack of creative flow or ability; quite to the contrary, it takes a sharp set of minds to realize that less can be more, especially when that less is so well constructed. The longest track on the album, which clocks in at just over seven minutes, is no different. For "Trollstigen," it may even be more important to maintain that level of stripped down riffing, as once again, Estill gives a vocal hook that could haunt your dreams in the best possible way. It's worth noting that this is not the release for the casual metal fan who needs drum rolls and fills to remain attached; drummer Slim TX does so much for the atmospheric quality of the album by not throwing in blast beats or sets of double kicks, just for the sake of adding them. Even as the song fades out, and Estill croons, "carry on," a single chill travels the entire length of your spine to your lower brain stem.

With a slightly lighter mood, "I:M:O" brings out a lot of the post-rock element that has been flickering in the background throughout. Without the vocal element at play, it is up to the instrumental melody to arry the track, which is does with no resistance whatsoever. The track has a lighter side, like a single spotlight through a smokey bar; it's uptempo at times, but with an arc that brings it back into solemn territory. Back in a true lead role, Phillips hits a home run with his vocals on "HW:R," not to mention the main guitar melody that dominates the track. The harmonies that you achieve through these male and female vocal tradeoffs deserves to be highlighted, and it is here. Where Phillips nails down the verse, Estill is right behind to pick up the chorus. It wouldn't be too far off base, I would hope, to draw a comparison between this track and the beloved "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas And The Papas. Both embody that dreary sense of melody in special ways. Without belaboring its importance, the placement of "Lungr" at the tail end of the album is a choice that took both savvy and courage to make. With a beautiful sense of harmony and structure, it could have easily been a lead single, put into the three or four slot without a second thought. But as the final notes fade out, it fits the clean up role better than any other track could have.

There have been plenty of great albums released this year; power metal, stoner doom, black metal, they've all seen representation. But True Widow are in a class all their own, the lone member of a club that all bands should hope to one day be included. This album is a different kind of great, a transcendent, floating above it all kind of greatness. It's simple, yet complex in its delivery. It's dark, yet somehow invigorating. And most of all, "Circumambulation" is smart in every possible way. The album is more than just a rainy day listen, or a sunny day in the car; somehow it manages to be all of those things and more, finding a firm place in your short list of albums to have with you at all times. For some, it might not hit home as squarely as it does for others. That is, of course, the nature of music itself. But if you can just let go of yourself for forty some odd minutes, and let these eight grainy, cloudy tracks emanate from your speakers and surround you, chances are you'll be convinced. Call it what you will; but "Circumambulation" is going to make a lot of Top Ten lists come December, and even more Desert Island Discs lists in years to come.


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