Young Widows - Easy Pain

Unconcerned for the safety of others, the Louisville veterans deliver their most combustible album.

Additional Info

7.9

ALBUM: Easy Pain

ARTIST: Young Widows

2014

Alternative

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”

1. Godman
The album opens with panning noise from a guitar like an engine desperately trying to turn over. When it finally does, it’s through squealing and a battering riff heavier than anything on In and Out of Youth and Lightness. Evan Patterson actually sings, “Godman, don’t be so cruel”; compare that to, “God, man, don’t be so cruel,” and you’ll have a nice way to figure out where Young Widows want to take us. The band wrestles with all of absurd humanity, but especially against the sect of people who are venerated or take advantage of positions of power. Corruption is nearly an inherent trait, they seem to be saying, but through the dirgy opening march, there’s still something to rail against on the other side—though it’s a strain to try at all, apathy hasn’t won just yet. Cranked reverb suits Patterson’s vocals nicely, creating an effect that his voice is coming from a different room than the rhythm section driving the song.7.8
2. Cool Night
Nick Thieneman’s bursting steady bass provides a pole around which Patterson’s siren guitar wraps. The song nearly putters to a stop within the first minute and a half before the vocals ignite it back to life. The early section of Easy Pain is filled with stop/starts—atrophy and flourishes working together as needed. Patterson’s voice is a bit theatrical on the track; he is expressive in a way that is peculiar put against his usual languorous delivery. He almost sings the chorus: “Such a cool night/ I love to say/ Such a cool night/ A way to ease the pain”. The closest the band has sounded to this is “Feelers” from Old Wounds. The bludgeons that come at the song’s climax strangely do “ease the pain” and the petering effect at its end does bring about a microscopic catharsis, intended or not.8.2
3. Kerosene Girl
Dissonant chord strumming against a steady, driving drumbeat give enough room for another confident vocal performance for Patterson, who’s purposeful stuttering and wailing of the title is reminiscent of the likes of the best Iggy Pop. “Kerosene Girl” is one of the band’s best songs, full of melody but pummeling when needed. The guitar lead is simple but focused and the song never loses its strong momentum. The build up in the song’s final third is inspired, complete with the most straightforward guitar shredding Patterson has done. It’s a track where Young Widows know exactly what is given and gained by one of their songs.8.8
4. Doomed Moon
The song begins with guitar pings reaching to space like the beginning of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”. Quite quickly, the main riff descends like a summer squall, and just as quickly it recedes. It’s the dynamic employed by noise-rock since the ‘80’s, and Young Widows have tried this before (Settle Down City’s “The Charmers” and “Mirrorfucker”), but the effect of catch and release is far more accomplished here. The band sounds tight as ever, cultivating frisson in touch with one other, and another sound vocal melody makes this one a standout.8.5
5. Gift of Failure
Another quiet intro leads into a crushing main riff that chugs along like a freight train hugging the tracks. The song’s mid-tempo pace is uninterrupted, and the verses make the song sound a bit poppy. It seems like an attempt for accessibility that doesn’t quite work because, while the song is straightforward, it’s missing a serious hook that bands like Torche or Kylesa layer into their metal. Patterson’s vocals are a bit louder here than on other tracks, but the lyrics are still mired in despondence: “So tired/ the gift of failure/ nothing to see.” The crescendo ending is the song’s best part, as call and response guitar and bass recall being stuck at a train crossing just as the gates descend.6.9
6. Bird Feeder
This track is coated in Shellac. A hard-edged guitar circles bouncing drums; a gentle tambourine and slide guitar part add an unusual but definitely welcome dimension. It’s the sound of the band naturally expanding, not trying to cram anything to where it doesn’t fit. Unlike the “Gift of Failure” this is an accessible track that wholly works. Patterson does sound like David Yow here, sloshing and spitting indecipherable words, but the effect is apt against the agitated guitar sliding, the relentless driving bass.8.9
7. King Sol
At first it seems like this may be a minor entry to the album coming right after Easy Pain’s best track. But after a quiet verse with lilting guitar notes, the drums hammer a half-time beat that is one of the album’s heaviest moments. The track’s full shape emerges as the song hits the minute mark, sounding headbangingly full. Patterson’s vocal work is reminiscent of latterday Daughters, nestled in that strange spit-whine that perfectly conveys the sarcasm of lines like: “If I could be anywhere/ if I could be anyone/ I would be here/ I would be me.”8.2
8. The Last Young Widow
Easy Pain is quite fond of quiet arpeggio intros, but they aren’t utilized better than on this track. The song builds in layers: clean guitar then overdriven guitar, sloppy vocals, then Melvins drumming that seems almost set to a different song. The song’s quiet verses ramp tension for an expansive chorus that have Patterson screaming for—of all things—an angel. The sparse landscape creates room for the listener to consider all that’s come before—the languid, off-putting strangeness of being that three guys from Louisville articulate better than most everyone else in aggressive music today.8.1
Michael McDermit is an artist living in Oregon. He is a contributing member of the My Idea of Fun artist collective and currently teaches writing and literature at the University of Oregon.



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