released August 24th, 2010
from the album - Shadow
from all music
Although it makes some sense to lump Grass Widow in with the Vivians, Dum Dums, and various other "girl groups" that rushed onto the indie underground stages of the late 2000s, the San Francisco-based trio is actually a slightly different animal. Formed, predictably enough, in the late 2000s, the group is comprised of Hannah Lew, Raven Mahon, and Lillian Maring; the three utilize the same sort of egalitarian, D.I.Y. embrace of collective creative possibility embodied by Rough Trade heroes such as the Raincoats, Essential Logic, and Kleenex/LiLiPUT. There's simply no denying the influence of the first wave of British D.I.Y. bands here — whether it's deliberate or not — yet while Grass Widow certainly work with the raw ore of a bygone era, the final product remains of their own time.
Like the aforementioned bands did with the more derivative, brutish aspects of England's Dreaming-era punk, Grass Widow subvert the laconic fuzzed-out punk wallop of their contemporaries by embracing a skittering, disarming approach to rhythm, one born equally out of innovation and necessity. The group's distinctive three-part vocal approach likewise creates an off-kilter moodiness that further complicates what are ultimately rudimentary post-punk tunes. The effect, when it works, can be quite impressive; when it doesn't, it still feels inspired. The band's debut, a self-titled full-length, appeared on the tiny Make a Mess label in 2009; it was followed shortly thereafter by an EP on the prodigious Brooklyn label Captured Tracks. After a move to the Kill Rock Stars label, the trio released their debut record, Past Lives, in August of 2010.
It would be easy to look at Grass Widow and lump them in with all the noisy girl pop bands of 2010, they certainly are noisy and poppy enough (and the ubiquitous Frankie Rose played drums in an early incarnation of the group). What makes them stand out from the crowd on their first record for Kill Rock Stars, Past Lives, is the care they take with their vocals. All three of the band members sing and their sweet, unschooled voices dart and weave around each other magically. When they join in three-part harmony, the effect can be breathtaking. Placing the vocals over skittery, post-punk influenced guitars and drums only makes the effect stronger and more mysterious, sounding like a strange and wonderful blend of late 60’s psych-folk and early 80s post-punk. Like Wendy & Bonnie fronting the Raincoats maybe. Just as important as the sound the trio gets is the fact that they write very strong songs. Melancholy but not morose and suffused with a warmth and simplicity of emotion, they aren’t exactly summer jam mixtape material but they would sound good as the sun is going down over the beach and campfires are being lit. Dusk jams isn’t a term you hear very often but most of the songs on Past Lives would fit that bill. The fragile way the instruments interact and the tender construction of the vocals may not stand up to the heat of the day, but may be a little too spooky in the dark. “Shadow” is the theme song for the in-between feeling the band conjures up but many other vie for that spot. “Submarine,” in particular with it’s restraint and very moody melody. Grass Widow set the mood masterfully and never breaks it. Past Lives may be a short album that seems slight on first listen but as you play it again and again, it sinks in deeply and magically.
1 Uncertain Memory Grass Widow 3:18
2 Shadow Grass Widow 3:00
3 11 Of Diamonds Grass Widow 2:55
4 Give Me Shapes Grass Widow 1:49
5 Old Disguise Grass Widow 2:29
6 Fried Egg Grass Widow 3:31
7 Landscape Grass Widow 2:09
8 Submarine Grass Widow 2:54
9 Strangers Come Grass Widow 1:54
10 Tuesday Grass Widow 2:35