An antiquated term dating back to the 1500s, "grass widow" once was used to describe a woman whose husband had not died, but was absent nonetheless, whether he left for battle or in search of some elusive fortune. But weep not for the deserted; Grass Widow's guitarist Raven Mahon explains the empowerment that the band sees in this abandonment: "The meaning for us isn't about loneliness or helplessness. If anything, it's the opposite; the band serves as a constant in our lives, it reinforces faculties of independence and perseverance." Men: who needs 'em?
San Francisco natives Hannah Lew, Raven Mahon, and Lillian Maring have been on the music scene for some time now, but Past Time marks their first release on a major label, Kill Rock Stars, which is appropriately also the home of like-minded female punk-rock outfits Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, and Erase Errata. And the album certainly makes a splash that their predecessors would be proud of. The 10 songs on Past Time are concise, complex, and intricate. Each instrument challenges the next, drummer Lillian's frenetic rhythm pushes against Hannah's bass play which in turn battles with Raven's quick-fingered guitar skills. And they achieve all this, while engaging in three part harmonies; each voice knotting, interjecting, and overlapping with the others. These girls are not messing around.
Past Time gets going with a sparse, mournful guitar lick that sounds like the prelude to a duel out of the Old West. But, out of nowhere, wondrous, full-bodied girl harmonies descend and blow the dreariness away with a quick twirl of a pistol. Before you know it, the album is chugging full steam ahead, propelled by a menacing bass line and some strings thrown in for good measure. Songs like "11 of Diamonds," "Give Me Shapes," and "Fried Egg" (all fantastic) whiz by in a flash that's equal parts ethereal melody and in-your-face attitude. Sugar and spice and everything nice.
The album's punchy songs are wonderfully upbeat, but, if you scratch the surface just a bit, you'll find a certain submerged sadness. While writing and recording Past Time, one of the girls was dealing with the loss of her father. Best friends before band mates, the two other girls rallied around their grieving sister and, instead of wallowing, decided to channel those feelings of desperation and isolation into something positive. Maybe that's why Grass Widow's music resonates: it has all the accessibility and palatable glaze of great pop, but is grounded in something deeper and more honest, something that's easy to recognize and even easier to blast from your speakers.
Past Time is out now, so buy it. And don't forget to see Grass Widow in all their glory when they play the Cyclone Warehouse on September 10, 2010!