Never one to take things easy, Sean Watkins quickly followed 2015's Watkins Family Hour -- the first-ever studio record from the loose collective that's long haunted the stages of L.A.'s The Largo -- with What to Fear in the spring of 2016. Where the Watkins Family Hour was joyous and robust, What to Fear is stark and haunted, a reckoning of all the dark undercurrents flowing through America in a particularly tense election year. Watkins occasionally touches on explicit social issues -- the title track makes no bones about what should be feared -- but he often explores the thin line that separates the personal and the political. Throughout the record he conveys a sense of urgency -- even when the tempos turn slow or the melodies are languid, the songs feel lean and purposeful -- and when paired with the meditative modulated of Watkins and his cohorts (including bassist Mike Elizondo and drummer Matt Chamberlain), What to Fear turns into something hushed, haunting, and quietly affecting: a protest album as a whisper, not a shout.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine