Brooklyn duo Widowspeak gained wide recognition with their 2011 self-titled debut thanks to singer Molly Hamilton — who sounds strikingly similar to Hope Sandoval — and the record’s sophisticated sound. On January 22, Widowspeak will release their sophomore album, Almanac. The twelve tracks easily weave into another; it’s one of those records that lets you dip in and out of its songs without ever letting go. Hamilton’s vocals sweep with unchanging melancholy through each song, whether it’s an aching piece, like “Ballad of the Golden Hour,” or one with more of a rock vibe, like “Dark Age and Sore Eyes.” The guitars — both electro and acoustic — build a firm but subtle framework for Hamilton’s ethereal vocals. While “Minnewaska,” which only features acoustic guitar and vocals, trickles on a bit too unexcitingly, “Storm King” builds slowly but steadily to a noisy crescendo. This closer track leaves the listener with a quiet nostalgia for something ineffable — or perhaps for another listen of the record.
Back in the fall of 2011, when Toronto native and Doldrum’s frontman Airick Woodhead had just landed on the international radar with his fantastic Portishead cover “Chase the Tear, ” The Grid asked “Is Doldrums Toronto’s Next Breakout Band?” Though Doldrums released its debut EP, Empire Sounds, the impromptu side project Phedre kept Woodhead busy throughout 2012. Now Montreal-based, Doldrums puts out its first album, titled Lesser Evil, on February 26, and it might just make Doldrums Montreal’s next breakout band of the year (following in the footsteps of label-mate Grimes, who took the crown for 2012). Songs like “Anomaly” perfectly marry Woodhead’s androgynous voice, the album’s percussive elements, and the synths that wash it all into a dreamy haze. The second single “She is the Wave” adds some club-friendly, heavy bass and a loop track that puts you on edge, while “Sunrise” is relaxed but upbeat. Taken together, these two songs are representative of what this 11 track record truly is: heady dance music.
Since his acclaimed 1994 debut Mellow Gold, Beck Hansen has evolved from a teenage rock star to an iconic face in modern music. Given that Beck has produced such diverse hits such as the bossa nova influenced “Tropicalia” and the more radio friendly “Girl,” it’s often difficult to tie the artist down to generic conventions. This is especially true with Beck’s latest work, Song Reader.
With dozens of songs that span over a multitude of genres, Song Reader is an ambitious effort on Beck’s part. Composed of twenty pages worth of sheet music that features original artwork by an eclectic group of artists, Beck’s songbook is pleasing to the eyes and ears alike. Each song within the booklet allows room for interpretation. “Old Shanghai,” for example, has been played as a group ensemble by the staff of The New Yorker, but it can also be executed as a simple piano solo in one’s home. While Song Reader has yet to enjoy mainstream success, it is comparable to Beck’s magnum opus Sea Change in its experimental efforts, making it no less relevant than his previous efforts.