ALBUM: Easy Pain
ARTIST: Young Widows
At this point in their eight-year career, the Louisville stalwarts are resting comfortably in a niche of say-little, do-little noise-rock. But Easy Pain is not a lazy record; it’s the most aggressive since their 2006 debut, Settle Down City. The usual battering ram rhythm section is still paired with Evan Patterson’s slinky, wandering guitar, but on Pain Patterson delivers his most assured vocal performances to date. His voice is mostly buried in the mix, creating a sense of futility against an already indifferent landscape, but his yowl burbles through the gale at the right times, bellowing out a who cares? to the scrutiny that, well, nobody much cares.
Young Widows often get compared to Jesus Lizard, but that only fits if David Yow had been on a steady diet of cough syrup. Young Widows’ driving low end and sputtering bark vox fit the mold, but there’s reservation to their music absent in Jesus Lizard. Whatever amalgamation of disembowling influences Young Widows channel through each record, they always ooze a sound that is distinctly Louisville. Historically, the Kentucky city is one of the more interesting outposts for challenging music. In the early ‘90’s, bands like Rodan, June of ’44, and Slint helped showcase just what jaded, intellectual slackers could produce. From that, Louisville evolved into a tight, esoteric scene that saw bands like Coliseum and Lords take the mantle of pissed and weird and run with it. There’s a collaborative sense in Louisville—bands share members, labels sign locals only, big-name recording engineers dot the town. Native Kevin Ratterman recorded Easy Pain in a former funeral home in the heart of Louisville. The morbid aura suits Young Widows well, and Ratterman’s production here nails the strengths of the band—he’s mixed this record in a way that allows the space between the noises to be as powerful as when the band is cranking together full force. Patterson’s strained vocals are finally set perfectly within the music, too. 2011’s In and Out of Youth and Lightness (also recorded by Ratterman) was a bit too stuck in the ether of reverie and away from the cruel real to which Easy Pain shrugs, begrudgingly accepting. Ratterman’s muddy mix on Pain complements a brain burned out from the fuzz of knowing how small one mind really is.
This album is the closest Young Widows have sounded like hardcore punk outfit Breather Resist since actually being Breather Resist. It’s important to remember Young Widows arose from the ashes of that band, as they never fit into the early aughts metalcore trend, but were as heavy as anything kids moshed to on Victory Records or Deathwish Inc. At times, Easy Pain recalls the churning rhythms on which Breather Resist relied. That band used stage lights in their amplifiers and, at their songs’ heaviest moments, the lights would turn blindingly bright. There’s a lot of stop/start dynamic here, as well. At the intersection of indie and hardcore, Young Widows straddle a unique line between thinking man noise and lazybones math rock. The band works best when they settle in, rock out on a single, chugging chord. “Doomed Moon”, “Gift of Failure”, and the closing track all max out their simple riffs until they’re grinding bone-on-bone.
Throughout their tenure, the band has used wordplay between youth and old age, perhaps as a measure of flimsy humanness. In conjunction with their name, the constant life plotting creates a subtle humor that can connect entities trying to make sense of the process of aging (“Young Rivers”, Old Wounds, Old Skin.). Grand concepts often change shape through the lens of time between then and now. Retrospection is a powerful, underutilized thing. “The Last Young Widow” continues the band’s focus on all things redshifted. Closing the album, a single chord (a bit reminiscent to Old Wounds’ ode to “The Guitar”) enters first as a looped arpeggio until it shifts into a cold, sluggish jam. The music is so languid, the band could be playing and spacing out to reality television at the same time, but there’s something powerful in the indolence. In keeping the music potential instead of kinetic, the song acts as a statement on a marginalized existence—quite often we never get the chance to show what we can do. The song finally shifts chords in its final minute, fooling the listener into thinking about a building melody before settling back on what’s come before. There’s never much of an escape from anything—the best we get is some sort of furlough.
Young Widows lasting, most prevalent axiom revolves around casual acquiescence, what happens when you consign yourself to the commonplace horrors of humanity and nature alike without considering what it means to stop caring. They’ve never been a band to shy away from conflict or harshness, and Easy Pain is a sigh that both makes acute and temporarily relieves the mounted pressure of being a stuck cog. Arriving at this point is a step forward for the band, even though it’s only a passive movement. I have to wonder how much material is left to mine in the realm of exhaustion, but Easy Pain is a testament to still being affected by it all not making sense. The lack of agency becomes a bit tedious (perhaps by design) as the album goes along, but at only eight tracks, is ultimately saved by being a bit shorter than usual. It’s a wise choice by the band, as the listener is just about drained by the sleepy sentiments of relativity as “The Last Young Widow” sputters and dies.
“Such a cool night/to ease the pain”