Shooting from the hip, Grass Widow are the sound of Olympia, WA updated. Taking their name from a woman whose husband is out at sea, Grass Widow capture a sense of heartbroken loss, only without sounding altogether needy.
Formed three years ago in the San Francisco Bay area, Grass Widow follow last year’s self-titled debut with a record fraught with tension. A general sense of unease is marked by taut guitars stretched across rumbling bass lines, while angelic dual vocals linger beneath the mix.
The influences here are an unlikely blend of Stereolab, Sleater-Kinney and All Girl Summer Fun Band, earmarking Grass Widow as a compromise between the twee and the raucous. Allusions towards riot-grrl culture are here, though not as prevalent as the music of such hardline revivalists as Forget Cassettes.
‘Old Disguise’ is a damn fine example of this waning spirit. It’s not as simple as purely evoking the spirit of those older bands. Grass Widow teeter on the brink of fury each time; but they pull themselves back compellingly. The tension and anger is there, it bubbles away as a constant but a greater commitment to pop sensibilities subdues it.
‘Strangers Come’ is a slice of pure pop direct from garage land. Rumbling bass duels with a wandering guitar line cut through with a sense of over romanticism. There is a haste here, a subtle sadness created by the dual vocals that come down in a distinctly minor key that creates a sense of closure.
As Past Time winds down, the pace picks up and the bassline underpins vocals that becomes Nico-esque; a baroque depth that gives a velveteen backdrop to the saccharine sweet counterpoint.
On the finale, ‘Tuesday’, it is as if Shonen Knife are performing with Nico. The shambolic J-pop is at perfect odds with the smokey rich vocal backbone and as the track melts down into a three way duel it evokes the best of the dying days of riot-grrl.
Knowing quite where to place Grass Widow is part of the problem – the subtle strings on ‘Give Me Shapes’ add a depth that is, not wholly unexpected but certainly a welcome distraction, while on ‘Fried Egg’ the fury is more evocative of the higher end influences - the Washington bands, the Olympia bands.
Grass Widow are sweet, subtle and at times approaching subversive – each track is underpinned by a tension created by the conflict between pop sensibilities and genuine aggression. Sure, they are off kilter and at times bordering on twee but if anything that’s another strength. Past Times might not be the freshest sounding record you’ve heard but it’s a welcome contender for one of the most joyous, if only by association.
7Will Metcalfe's Score