Don’t be surprised if your first reaction to Grass Widow‘s third album, Internal Logic, is one of disorientation. “Goldilocks Zone,” the album’s first track, is built from a very curious introduction, with a low hum escalating into atonal electronic beeps stacking on top one another like transmissions from an alien radio tower. It takes a good 20 seconds before the band even begins playing, and even then, guitarist Raven Mahon mimics those off-putting beeps with her own discordant sequence of notes. In short order, Mahon finds a melody, drummer Lillian Marling hits a rhythmic stride, bassist Hanna Lew carves out a groove, and the three musicians’ heavenly vocals lock in stunning harmony.
This progression, in a sense, is what San Francisco’s Grass Widow is all about — turning raw punk and no wave abrasion into something ultimately quite beautiful, a pattern that holds through the entirety of the brief but excellent Internal Logic. Following the path taken on 2010’s Past Time, Grass Widow stuff Internal Logic with surf-tinged post-punk sounds that recall the likes of the Raincoats, Wire and Essential Logic, the finished result clocking in at a taut, neatly wrapped 29 minutes. That it’s concise shouldn’t be a surprise; punk rock is typically at its best when left succinct. That so much happens in less than 30 minutes is what makes it extraordinary.
The songwriting on Internal Logic outpaces that of its predecessor, the trio displaying a more complex, yet prettier approach that shows off a wider array of sounds. The aforementioned “Goldilocks Zone” is certainly a stunning start, though the four-chord punk of “Milo Minute,” while simpler in structure, is likewise executed immaculately, jerking and bopping with a sprightly momentum. There’s a breezy, laid back feel to “Under the Atmosphere,” among the album’s prettiest songs and, at times, recalling the hazy jangle of the Vivian Girls at their best. The unexpectedly delicate classical guitar segue “A Light in the Static” separates the album’s two halves, with “Spock On Muni” starting up on the other side with a furious guitar chug and simultaneous peaks for both unshakable hooks and unstoppable energy.
While the whole of any one song on Internal Logic comprises the work of more than the three women of Grass Widow, there’s often an intricate latticework of instrumentation and vocals that can be dizzying at first listen. But as with “Goldilocks Zone,” the disorientation one potentially gets never lasts long. Grass Widow’s songs are often simpler than their taut push-and-pull of leads and rhythms sometimes lets on. If it feels a little overwhelming at first, just embrace it; their layered harmonies and wiry hooks will guide you back where you belong.
Stream: Grass Widow – “Goldilocks Zone”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.