Hook. Line. Sinker. Caught by—or caught up in—something, someone, et cetera, with no contest. Cliché, yes, but the most satisfying music, to me, is of this quality. You don’t even have a chance. It snakes out and connects with you, a kind of welcome violation. Whether it’s a melody, beat, riff, texture, or lyrical strand that gets you, the hearing and feeling of it can be deeply, playfully, and even forcefully personal. This music takes you places, both unknown and sometimes painfully familiar, but like a kind of mesmerism, resistance to the journey is bittersweet futility. “Circumambulation”, the July 2013-released effort from Dallas trio True Widow, was one such experience for me.
The disc, the third in their catalog, is a picture of deeper progression into a sound the band themselves have dubbed “Stonegaze,” a further-minimalist approach to components of Drone ambient and Shoegaze alternative rock.
Still present are the heavily distorted guitar and bass. Ditto subtle vocal stylings that—despite obvious lyrical content—seem bred to blend with the droning or repetitive instrumental phrases, a melody-flavored layer to the cake rather than cake’s proverbial icing. However, other than distortion and judicious use of echo or reverb, effects and additive instrumentation are dialed down or discarded entirely. Thus, an edgier, roomier sound—a slow and spacy trudge through dark musical mire that differentiates it even from True Widow’s previous releases.
The moody tone of the album as a whole pretty well pulled down my pants, kicked my ass, and took me on a spasmodic, whirlwind reunion tour through Late-Nineties Adolescent Despair and forward into the last few years’ contemplation of the darkest corners of my adult life as I listened. A few stand-outs:
“Creeper”, the first single from “Circumambulation”, is equal parts menace and twang, a pale reminiscence of Marilyn Manson’s cover of The Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” over lead vocalist/guitarist Dan Phillips’s misanthropic lyric (and something I could imagine hearing within the context of a John Carpenter flick).
“Four Teeth” had a very distinctive color, a hopeful blue-over-grey, that—between singer/bassist Nicole Estill’s seemingly ebullient, sing-songy vocal delivery and steady guitar work from Phillips—felt like a brooding-but-romantic companion number to the soundtrack from 1994’s The Crow.
“S:H:S” not-entirely stable bass line and rebounding, near-Gregorian singing conjured swaying bar-room ruminations and post-alcoholic regrets akin to some lost poem by Charles Bukowski (perhaps titled “sounds of an evening’s debaucheries … tastes of a watered-down confessional”).
With “LUNGR”, the band again eloquently revisit the overused Nineties “Am I Sad or Am I Happy” ballad motif (Uplifting Vocals, Unsure Lyrics, Somber Music). Along with Timothy Starks’s drumming here, I swore for a moment that I had returned to my short-lived Radiohead phase.
“Circumambulation” took me around and back a few times over. After the first listen, I was decidedly tired; something felt as though it had been brought to my attention and something else subsequently taken out of me. While I don’t know how often I’d take the journey, I won’t deny—bitter and sweet notwithstanding—that I was caught and connected from the moment I pressed PLAY. True Widow intrigues me, and as some songs here have brighter leanings than their earlier offerings, I’m equally curious where their future forays might take the willing listener….