Though Grass Widow — comprised Hannah Lew, Raven Mahon, and Lillian Maring — have left Kill Rock Stars for their own label, HTR, Internal Logic shows us that little variation has risen out of independence. In fact, perhaps what best defines Grass Widow and the band’s sound is a stubbornness, a clear-eye vision for what the band is doing and a refusal to deviate too far from that formula.
If that sounds dismissive, it’s not meant to be. The formula works, as is evidenced on their solid second record Past Time. And here once again, Grass Widow proves itself both more angular and riff-driven than other women playing in garage bands — i.e. Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls, etc. — and more organic. If those bands have a city shine (or sneer) to them, Grass Widow, from the name on down, feels far more organic. The three players mesh their vocals together into one pastoral sound that echoes out into big spaces even as their playing remains tight, contained. It’s the sound of beach rock, but it’s also got mood and atmosphere to it.
The harmonies aren’t exactly polished, or even exactly on key, but they are distinct and contain their own charms. “Hang Around” is equal parts overcast gloom and shards of sunny brightness. The bass rumbles and the drums cut up the song in those tumble-down choruses, but the verses are all gliding bursts of sun. “Under the Atmosphere” tones down the angles of the guitar in favor of more spacious, rippling riffs that give the song a larger feel than expected. It’s a sound that lives in the halcyon days of the past — “‘Gone are the days of melting in the sun,” they sing — even as it laments their passing. “Advice,” on the other hand, is back to basics surf rock, and the moment of sheer energy, along with others like “Disappearing Industries,” keeps the album from ever slipping into monotone grey.
The problem you run in sticking to a sound is that you may run out of variations on your theme, and as Internal Logic wears on, it may still strike you with its hooks and harmonies, but it keeps striking you the same way. “Spock on Muni” starts promisingly with a burst of buzzing notes, but it deflates in overly gauzy mid-tempo verses and too much thin space floating around the song, making it feel smaller rather than expansive. “Cover You” retreads earlier, more successful, straight-up rock tunes without giving us any new elements, while “Whistling in the Dark” brings back the sharp guitars but loses its way in only three minutes. But record’s end, the harmonies have lost their charm, since they start to feel same-y as they pile up. One song isolated sounds great, but all lined up together, there seems to more order to this set than Past Time, but less subtle varation.
Maybe the trio knew that, and that’s why the album is cut up by two solo interludes. There’s the mid-record, nylon-guitar lyricism of “A Light in the Static” and the piano solo closer “Response to Photographers.” Both songs sound find enough on their own, though neither are revelatory, but they feel wholly out of place. Instead of palate cleansers, those two songs feel self-consciously put into the album to both mix up the texture and vibe of the record and give it a unearned sense of importance. Internal Logic is best when it plays to its strengths and twists them into new versions of the charms we’ve come to love in Grass Widow. The other moments here retread instead of reform, so while the trio’s stubborn vision for their music is abmirable, its limitations become glaringly clear as you get to the record’s end.