February 9, 2007
YOUNG WIDOWS [I]SETTLE DOWN CITY[/I] REVIEW
Young Widows are pretty much former Jade Tree band Breather Resist without the vocalist, but you can barely tell. Are they still indebted to the Jesus Lizard? Sure. Just listen to the queasy, seasick guitar lines in the title track or "Glad He Ate Her" (see what they did there?) to find that same oppressive head-bob rhythm between galloping drums and sludgy bass. But they've learned a whole lot of patience and found at least a couple other bands to rip off, making Settle Down City a thoughtful and more original record-- if a little less manic-- with far more potential than their former band. Don't sleep on this late-2006 album like I nearly did; the halls of nu-pigfuck are beset with obstacles, and it might be only these three penitent men who pass.
For one, the vocals of Evan Patterson are much calmer, recalling the flat, ominous delivery of early June of 44. That's exactly who they remind me of-- albeit a nastier version-- on the opening title track, when after a few bars of pounding the downbeat with Neanderthal drumming and a bass tone that hits like a bowling ball dropped in mud, everything recedes for guitar plinking and some idle warnings from the singer ("Why'd you come around, the city left you/ Should have settled down..."), just before more furious grinding.
The production is dry, truer to those mid-1990s grails, and rather than the middling distortion tone of Breather Resist, the guitars have more of a free-floating echo above the din, crunchy but clear. Songs like "Small Talk" are less riffing and more incidental noise, punching in and out of the verses with an almost dub-like abruptness and ghostly reverb. Meanwhile, that starkness gives room for drummer Geoff Paton to stomp like a fuming animal over tracks like "Formererer" and makes moments like the staccato full-band thwack at the finale of "Bruised Knees" that much scarier.
While the tempo and tone get pretty homogenous, save for some backing vocals on "Mirrorfucker", Settle Down City is consistently dynamic and surprising, from the title track's twists and turns to the many change-ups and fake-outs of tracks like "Glad He Ate Her" and "Formererer". Young Widows borrow from a narrow selection of influences, but it's forced them to come up with a stronger-- and uglier-- result. It may not step too far out of the shadow of its heroes, but it is taking a step. Either way, it's a worthy entry to an undermined corner of the underground.
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