Young Widows’ previous album, Old Wounds, contained a song called “The Guitar”, in which Evan Patterson sang, “Got addicted at an early age.” It seemed like a mission statement at the time. Now on his band’s third album, Patterson’s addiction has manifested in a signature sound, something he was still working out on 2006’s Settle Down City but that he defined on Old Wounds, and now he’s reveling in it. In And Out Of Youth And Lightness suggests that some day we might refer to Patterson as one of those guitarists you can't mistake for anyone else.
Nearly as important to the YW sound is Nick Thieneman’s thunderous, emotive bass work. Few four-stringists can muscle out equal parts percussion and tone with as much character and force on minimal melody. The less brutal tone of this album has allowed drummer Jeremy McMonigle to develop a more integral role as well. "Young Rivers" starts with a dull drum beat that's Dale Crover-esque, not in style but in intention. In “White Golden Rings”, the absence of guitar for an agonizing stretch of pummeling drums and bass is the most forbidding sound on Earth. The odd thing is that the band has definitely mellowed, but at times the music is heavier than ever before. More hypnotic, still jarring at times…I think the operative word is “overwhelming”.
This is by far the most patient Young Widows have ever sounded. The songs are sonically complex yet starkly minimalist. Somehow they are more accessible but way creepier, less overtly abrasive but darkly subversive. These guys can still bludgeon you (see: “Future Heart”), but the effect is more menacing now that they’ve mastered restraint, as you wait for the punishment that’s surely just around the corner.
The undeniable key is the guitar. On “In And Out Of Lightness”, brilliant melodies fall miraculously together like an afterthought to the rich textures and tones of the strings. “Lean On The Ghost” is thrillingly unpredictable, the way the different guitar themes wind around and arrive at these unexpected, triumphant but unsettling melodic resolutions. The riffs of “The Muted Man”…the way Patterson picks them out with an agonizing precision of movement...they're not complex riffs in the slightest, but the manner in which they're played is like the way Judy Garland's lips twisted around words."These wild dreams are wrong/All you want is a few more guns/To show what damage you can do/You're gonna aim everywhere and run", Patterson sings on album-closer “In And Out Of Youth”. It’s delivered more as a warning than an accusation, tying up an hour’s worth of treatises on the transitory nature of things. The band’s freaky skull mascot is rendered in roses and bees for the album cover this time around. It’s a small step back from the aggressive pessimism of albums past; maybe Patterson is finally able to enjoy his own craftsmanship as much as his fans do.