A decade is a funny thing. At once it seems a significant period of time even as it comes to pass like a fleeting breeze on a sweltering summer day. In the musical realm ten years can be a career or it can just be the beginning. The latter seems to be the case for Young Widows, who after ten years, four albums, and more than a half dozen splits have released a collection that spans their career while showing their potential to continue creating. DECAYED collects songs from the aforementioned splits with bands like Pelican, Melt Banana, Coliseum, and even Bonnie Prince Billy, along with unreleased tracks, b-sides and a few recent favorites. Rather than playing like a greatest hits album, DECAYED presents itself with such raw, belligerent voracity that it feels almost like a live set when taken from start to finish.
The album opens with two bonus tracks from the Young Widows’ most recent full length release, Easy Pain. “The Money” and “In My Living Room” ease the listener into the group’s grungy, psych-laden iteration of noise rock. “The Money” felt especially significant as the first track, perhaps capturing some of what it is to be a touring musician and/or an adult approaching middle age with the worries of health staggering in the back of your mind as you struggle just to live a full life. The pace quickens with “Checked In/Out” and “Uptight and Tangled,” the latter of which marches relentlessly into a psychedelic dream vision. The vocals on this track are especially compelling, cooing and moaning into the night sky.
“The Backroom” succinctly captures a more disturbing take on musicianship, detailing an obsessive guitar player hidden away from the world. This song thumps, chunks, and grinds its way into your head with a largely straight beat and some cool riffing atop a ripping bass line. “Rolling as a Forgiver” ventures into some welcome experimental territory, dropping the straight rock feel of most of the preceding tunes for a largely lone guitar and some creepily distorted and doubled vocals. As the song progresses we get some intermittent contributions from the rhythm section, but just enough to frame the apocalyptic poetry.
“Easy Acting” is a straight noise-rock barn burner, popping with discordant flavor and percussive intent. The bass drives the whole affair relentlessly into a conclusion that constricts and enthralls the listener. The song “Midwestern” continues the assault, coming across like an early Bush track all sneering and untethered in its bombast. The “King of The Back-Burners” follows quickly after, playing almost like a centerpiece in the midst of the record. Straight forward and cool to the touch, I found this tune to embody my impression of Young Widows and this collection of songs.
The latter portion of the album is heralded by “Swamped and Agitated” which tears out of the gate with punch and fury. The Young Widows’ rhythm section commands this tune as the guitar rests almost gingerly in the mix between them. Progressive in all of the right senses, this track feels and sounds like it could have been created by Finnish folk-prog rockers Kiki Pau or their post-rock peers Russian Circles. There’s an earthiness to its expansive sound that seems so organic and welcoming when many of the other tracks on this album are cold and distant. Appropriately this song closed out their 2008 full length Old Wounds.
The record is rounded out two compellingly brutal tunes, “Future Plans” and “Baritone #3.” Both tracks are unrepentant in their ferocity, showcasing the groups penchant for presenting crushing riffs in a marginally digestible format. “Baritone #3” in particular is an excellent choice to close the collection out, featuring some incredible guitar work and dueling vocals that roar throughout.
DECAYED is a strong retrospective for a band that has clearly come into its own in terms of its sound and its ear for song craft. Young Widows have managed to construct a three dimensional soundscape of their work so far, giving new and old listeners a lot to sift through. What works in the collection is what works for the band: diversity. Certainly some of the tracks resemble one another but the band rarely seems to produce songs that bear any sense of formula. This is raw musicianship at its best, exhibiting so much while merely hinting at what is yet to come.