When the pandemic hit, Sour Widows had just taken a big leap into the unknown. In February 2020, the Bay Area trio released their self-titled debut EP, a six-song set with alt-pop hooks and slowcore-infused grandeur. What particularly set them apart was the interplay between the two singer/guitarists, Maia Sinaiko and Susanna Thomson, who have a talent for subtle builds to a big climax. Bolstered by empathetic drumming by their longtime friend Max Edelman, it’s tantalizing to imagine what they could’ve done if they’d played SXSW last year as originally scheduled.
Their new Crossing Over EP, recorded remotely, could quite literally have never existed without the tragic disjuncture of a world on pause. But it’s also a bit of a mulligan, an extra chance to define themselves before a planned full-length debut. With Crossing Over, Sour Widows seize this unusual opportunity, leaning into their more introspective, atmospheric side across four songs that glide by in what feels like both less and more than their 22 minutes. They’re beguiling and impressive, showcasing a band with lightness as well as heft.
Again and again on Crossing Over, Sour Widows create a sense of false comfort out of rudimentary furnishings, only to pull the emotional rug out from underneath. The sprawling title track is inspired, Thomson has said, by the reality of a long-distance relationship, and there’s a gentle familiarity both to the song’s Bedhead-ed opening riffs and the first verse’s apparently autobiographical description of battling the elements on an earlier, do-it-yourself tour. Before long, though, the guitars have become brambled, the storm imagery tangled up with the remote romance. Thomson and Sinaiko are harmonizing about, first, “Something in me crossing over in me,” and then “this life/splitting in me over and over in me,” and then there’s a ragged, windswept guitar solo. When “Crossing Over” finally ends, with an extended outro, it’s in a state of exhilarating ambivalence.
Other songs on the EP use a similarly basic toolkit to achieve a similar giddy transcendence. Opening song “Look the Other Way” also relies on slow-burn guitars, splashing cymbals, and vine-like harmonies, passing through more lyrical inversions (“When you look the other way” becomes “I won’t look the other way”) en route to another piercing guitar solo. But the effect is almost as wonderfully disorienting, and there’s a charming loftiness to a line like, “Someday I’ll be as dead as a star.” The closing “Walk All Day” is Sour Widows at their most cozy and cosmic, with fingers squeaking over acoustic guitar frets as Sinaiko and Thomson murmur about cell division, angels, and how “love is blind/leading the blind.” Sour Widows find the infinite in the intimate.
The narrative stakes in these songs are higher than they may seem, too. “Bathroom Stall,” which Sinaiko has said is “about a relationship I had with someone who struggled with addiction, who very tragically passed away three years ago while we were together,” again travels from serenity to catharsis. But there’s a jarring physicality to its climactic scene. “Do you remember it like I do?/Your lips turned blue/I had my fingers in your mouth/And I couldn’t get them out,” the band sings. With the Crossing Over EP, Sour Widows have a chance to reintroduce themselves, and they’ve come back wielding raw vulnerability like a superpower.
Buy: Rough Trade
(Pitchfork earns a commission from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.)
Catch up every Saturday with 10 of our best-reviewed albums of the week. Sign up for the 10 to Hear newsletter here.