After Almanac and All Yours, Widowspeak seemed like they were on the cusp of going full Americana -- a vital aspect of their music, but one that overlooked the band's distinctive version of rock. Molly Hamilton wrote Expect the Best's songs while in Tacoma, Washington, and the return to her hometown may have inspired the band to revisit the misty fusion of grunge and shoegaze of their earliest releases. While Widowspeak still sound more intricate and detailed than most of their Pacific Northwestern forebears, it's undeniable that this is the fullest, heaviest-sounding incarnation of the group yet, thanks to Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas inviting touring bassist Willy Muse and drummer James Jano into the studio to bring some live energy to Expect the Best. Of course, "heavy" is a relative term for a band as atmospheric as Widowspeak, but they get heads nodding -- if not exactly banging -- with foggy interpretations of grunge like "When I Tried" and "Let Me." The band expertly contrast these heavier sounds with vulnerable moods and words, imbuing them with a bruised brooding on the title track, which feels like a spiritual cousin to their early single "Harsh Realm," as well as on the yearning "Dog" and "Good Sport," a brief sketch that nevertheless showcases Hamilton's way with an extended metaphor. As Widowspeak return to sounds from their past, they also add new ones, such as the flutes that add an extra witchiness to "Right On" or the smoky, seductive, '60s psych of one of the album's standouts, "Warmer." Here and on the album's bookends -- the golden, bittersweet opener "The Dream" and the seven-minute finale "Fly on the Wall" -- Widowspeak are subtle and epic at the same time, building to crescendos that engulf listeners before they realize it. A late-summer bonfire of an album, Expect the Best proves once again that when it comes to hazy introspection and reflection, few bands are better at it than Widowspeak.
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