Young Widows has never been a party band. Unlike their fantastic Louisville contemporaries in Coliseum, Lords and the short-lived Pusher, their music is not meant to get people pumping their fists and crushing beer cans into their heads. They have always been a band of high intensity, but Young Widows prefer the type of intensity that leaves anticipation in the open spaces, always drawing comparisons to '90s indie bands like Shellac and the Jesus Lizard for their angular, grim-faced aggression.
If those frequent comparisons ever got tiring to the members of Young Widows, then they should be able to rest at ease after releasing In and Out of Youth and Lightness. They have taken giant steps forward since 2008's Old Wounds and have found a way to create a sound that no one else comes close to. The songs have gotten longer, the volume has been turned down ever so slightly, and there is more room to breathe. Continuing in their strange path of self-reference, the opening song is called "Young Rivers", and it has a structure that lets you know right away that we're dealing with a different type of beast this time around. Though Evan Patterson's vocals sound a whole lot like Steve Albini when he first comes in, his guitar work is much more patient and textured, letting Nick Thieneman and Jeremy McMonigle pound away on bass and drums while he drapes waves of sound over the proceedings. Songs like "Future Heart" and "Miss Tambourine Wrist" recall the noisy Young Widows of old, striking with even bigger impact in their four-minute bursts because of their placement among more drawn-out, contemplative six- or seven-minute excursions that leave far more open space than ever before.
On Old Wounds, vocal time was split almost evenly between Patterson and Thieneman, but this time around Thieneman barely makes an appearance, most likely because his more pointed, throaty delivery would have contrasted too harshly with the quieter moments. So Patterson takes over and steps to the plate with his most assured vocals yet, finally figuring out exactly what kind of singer he wants to be. Yes, the Albini moments come and go, but he goes far beyond that and lays his soul bare, though the murkiness in the music also finds its way into the lyrics. It's difficult to say if Patterson is telling us about experiences real or imagined in "The Muted Man" and "White Golden Rings", but whatever the truth may be, this guy knows how to lyrically match the sound his band makes, while never getting too flowery or wordy. "Seal up the cracks in my voice, then swallow the pity like rain / to avoid the black cloud, I am the muted man." Without giving us too much, he tells us all he could possibly need to.
When Pitchfork reviewed In and Out of Youth and Lightness, they criticized it for not having enough moments of true release to justify the tension and buildup in each song. While this may be a little true in one or two cases, and despite the moments of gigantic release that do come up, there is not much more that can be done with the mode they're operating in. Sometimes dark and murky has to stay dark and murky for the duration of a record in order for the band to get their point across. Something got into these guys between records that opened their eyes, shaded their perspectives and let them know that it's okay to bring it down even further than they had brought it down before. Rather than attempting to appeal to everyone, Young Widows have dug their heels into the ground and will wait for you to come along and find them. They don't need you to party. They only want you to pay attention.