Widowspeak's Plum is a joy to bite into
On the opening title track of Widowspeak’s tight bedroom-pop record Plum, the ubiquity of relationship disconnection felt in quarantine is immaculately captured: “I feel nothing / I feel dumb / You're a peach and I'm a plum.” Having not been on a proper date (of any kind, really, besides some porchside visits from old high school friends) since January, I felt a bitterness—and a dose of respect—towards the lyric, its effciency and simplicity making its accuracy hurt just a little more.
On any level, the duo of vocalist Molly Hamilton and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas (who make up the core of Widowspeak) has crafted a record fit for coffee shops and laundromats: Plum is the stuff of low-budget indie films and carefully curated Tumblr blogs. Drawing from 90s shoegaze and a Phoebe Bridgers-esque contemporary sensibility, the Tacoma-hailing band is lyrically critical, but sonically far from abrasive. If anything, this is an album to work alongside when you’re looking for a wall of music—not so spectacular as to command your attention, yet not so plain as to induce sleep.
On paper, Plum is pessimistic and dark. Outside of the aforementioned cynicism about romance on “Plum,” Hamilton’s voice traverses a wide variety of topics. “Even True Love” points to the inevitability—and emptiness—of death. Capitalism is wryly criticized on “Money; in the first line, she muses: “Will you get back what you put in?” Sort of seems to be the duo’s answer. The accompanying music video yields no clarity, intercutting surrealistically saturated scenes of the band performing on a hilltop with vintage stock footage of plants growing and trees being cut down—a vision of production and exploitation. The world of Widowspeak is thus one of dualism: money doesn’t grow on trees, but neither does creativity.
Following “Money” is album highlight “Breadwinner,” which lays down a bed of synths (reminiscent of a Slowdive track) and laments the 24/7 workaholic mentality ingrained into contemporary culture. Over a roving electric guitar and polyrhythmic drums, “Amy” is jealous in the first verse and then regretful in the next, illustrating a complex romance. Plum, though only nine tracks long, holistically serves as a relevant, punctual exploration of the underbelly of young adulthood in a capitalist society.
Plum is in no way a risky album. The social critiques are abundant yet seem somewhat resigned to the status quo. The critiques are only observational, and even in doing so, are rather partial in their coverage. But there’s something captivating about this quality too: with each topic she turns in her hands, Hamilton wavers between a woeful acceptance and a blissful, glossy irony. In recycling clichés, the ambiguous “Jeannie” barters in French 101 phrases that seem to paint a picture of desire amidst dysfunctional communication. The speaker meditates on her experience and then disappears into the mist, no resolution in sight. Plum also sounds very stable; the songs on it are all clearly related, and flow nicely into each other, making for a cohesive listen. The album ends wistfully with a blend of crooning vocals, a horn-like effect, and a slow drumbeat hazing out into dust. It’s cinematic and mellow to the point of being uninspiring.
After listening to Plum, to say “I feel nothing” is a drastic miscalculation. Plum is a piece of gentle contemplation—each guitar a probing thought, each lyric an impetus, each synth backbone a field of consciousness to plant flowers. Bring this album with you on your next study break, or when you need to wind down and don’t want to wake the night while doing so. Bite into Plum thoughtfully; the flesh it bears deserves every careful chew.
Max Zhang is the Managing Editor and a sophomore in the SFS studying Business and Global Affairs.