Molly Hamilton wasn’t sure there would be a fourth Widowspeak album. The humble dream-pop band she founded with guitarist and partner Robert Earl Thomas already made their “moving away from Brooklyn” album, 2015’s All Yours, after relocating to Saugerties, New York about three years ago. Then they moved again, to Tacoma, Washington, where Hamilton grew up. She spent a lot of time at her dad’s house, watching old episodes of Northern Exposure and listening to Alt 102.9—a.k.a. KFOO, the iHeartMedia empire’s own tribute to the Foo Fighters.
“It was like I was in a time warp,” Hamilton tells SPIN, “being back in my hometown and only listening to music from the ’90s.” She’s speaking over the phone from—surprise—Brooklyn, where she and Thomas have wound up once again. When she first moved out to Tacoma, though, she didn’t know what ought to come next. “There wasn’t anything dramatic that happened or anything,” she says. “It just sort of stopped being obvious what the next step was.” She took a job at an architectural salvage supply, wondered if she should find another career, and daydreamed about moving again.
The 2016 election precipitated a put-up-or-shut-up moment and prompted Hamilton to keep working on Widowspeak. Expect the Best is out August 25 from Captured Tracks. Recorded as a full band—Hamilton, Thomas, bassist Willy Muse, and drummer James Jano—the album has a Pollyanna title and an insular, world-weary wound. Energetically, it’s music for homebodies who can’t stop thinking about picking up and leaving. No song embodies the split like “The Dream,” a hypnotic send-up to the American fiction of going west. “What everyone needs / Is a place to be what everyone else wants to be,” Hamilton sings, so sweet the sarcasm’s almost transparent. “What do you want to be?”
“I think that I get caught up sometimes in ‘the grass is always greener’ mentality,” Hamilton explains of “The Dream.” “Thinking like, ‘What if I just bought some land somewhere, and just started over,’ or move to L.A., or move to New Mexico. The same mentality that brought me back to Washington, the same mentality that had brought me upstate, and honestly the same mentality that made me originally move to New York.” In “The Dream,” that permanent restlessness becomes hazy and calming—maybe because so much of Expect the Best revolves around the home Hamilton and Thomas left behind in Washington. The moody cover art, as well as the video for first single “Dog,” were shot in Hamilton’s old apartment.
Throughout Expect the Best, familiar vintage textures and dreamy vocals only partially disguise a sense that all may not be well. The alt-rock influence slips in as a brooding chill, a spookiness that never found such voice on past Widowspeak albums. “Close your mind,” Hamilton intones over a swell of echoed guitar on the ominous “Warmer.” Out of character for the real Molly Hamilton, perhaps—but in song, an unstable reality creeps in. As the opening track, “The Dream” is the slow sunset of a record that hovers between dusk and dark.
Even now that she’s back in Brooklyn, Hamilton confesses later by email, she still spends “a lot of time looking at Craigslist in random places.” She likes to compare the rent and the domestic architecture, to imagine the options. Maybe life would be better there. Isn’t that the dream?