Songs like Widowspeak’s new single, “Breadwinner,” that deal with the demotivation and stress of the workplace are rare, even though it’s a somewhat universal feeling among adults. This is because most musicians are either full-time artists or have a creative outlet that they use as an escape from their day job — I doubt many get home from their boring 9-5 and are like “I can’t wait to write about my day at work!” There is some risk in making music about such a mundane subject that listeners might want to get away from, but this band has found a niche on their last couple of albums by exploring uncomfortable feelings many people have and don’t talk about, specifically inertia, boredom, and the sometimes damaging effect of nostalgia.
At least that was my read on their last album, Expect the Best, which I ended up becoming a bit of a champion for because I related to it and loved the sound. Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas have always had the latter part down with their reverb-heavy ballads that fused country and shoegaze, but have fully clicked recently as they added this emotional core to their music. What makes it so effective is how the sound and lyrics work in tandem. The band’s sound is naturally nostalgic because of its 90s influences and Hamilton’s crooning vocals, so she started writing lyrics that dealt with looking back and feeling regret. Their songs tend to be quiet and slow-paced, so they focused on internal feelings of laziness and trying to find the energy to change that were supported by the lethargic performances.
“Breadwinner” continues on this path, with less guitar and more space than is typical for the band, and the sound and Hamilton’s lyrics capture the frustration of working a job you hate and stressing over it at home while also trying to function as a creative. Because of the timing of the track’s release, there is an unintended bit of nostalgia for me in the song, where it’s like: “Remember work? That thing where I used skills I’d developed in exchange for money, which I then exchanged for various goods and services? Those were crazy times.” I actually found myself missing the day-to-day repetitive grind over what’s happening now, where there is a similar level of boredom with an added level of anxiety over the world. So without really meaning to, the band has captured an extra layer of poignancy here for some listeners.
This song also functions as a bit of a foundational argument in favor of independent music. Ideally, artists wouldn’t have to take on day jobs to make a living, but it’s the reality we live in, and so bands like Widowspeak who grind like the rest of us can actually relate to our frustrations and stresses in a way that massively popular artists really can’t. I treasure songs like this that carve out a small space of their own articulate something that feels true.