There is always an ineffable and ghastly presence at work within Mary Lattimore‘s work, here presented as unaccompanied effected solo harp music. There is a natural affinity to water, be it her solo record At the Dam or her collaboration with Mac McCaughan titled New Rain Duets; here, the relation to water comes in the way the reverb-drenched harp plucks ripple outward like a stone was dropped into a serene lake. The only other fitting image might again be that of rain, but silvery now, glistening, a hybrid of her previous sound-image relation to frozen beams of silvery light and her recent affinity for the dappling drip-drop of rain. She has a keen ear particularly for the textures of her music, something necessary when the sonic landscape is as spare as this, often only one or two sound sources reverberating out by their lonesome. She makes them count, however, each sound treated with delicacy and care so that they form enveloping dust-like clouds of sound, dense enough to wrap you up like a blanket. There are sensations of angles and curves, dangerous prickly balls and swooning gusts of air; this is a lush and living landscape, a hybrid of flesh and machine, moss and metal.
Perhaps the most shocking thing for those that have become familiar with Lattimore’s work primarily through her collaborations, of which she’s released two in the past year, is just how lush and full she can make solo harp music sound. It helps certainly that there are layers and layers of recording on new album Silver Ladders, not to mention the appearance of Slowdive’s guitarist Neil Halstead adding his own shimmering and glass-like melodies and harmonies to the proceedings, but still the immaculate and finely-filigreed nature of her sound-images is a shocking and profound beauty. These are castles made of glass and light erected in the frozen sky, passing like clouds or the crash of a wave, cycling melodies whose primary purpose is temporary beauty rather than traditional notions of song. If there was a voice here to pull everything together, these could live on the cutting electronic edge of contemporary art music; but, by leaving them undisturbed, they instead gain a kind of unearthly beauty, like this is the music of angels or wild animals and that we have just been lucky enough to happen across it, gazing at its radiant form in wonder half-hidden behind a stone before the silver-haired angel departs into the murky ink of the night sky.
It’s easy to be rhapsodic and poetic when describing this kind of music because, simply, it demands it. It’s the same stuff that swirls within Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, loveliescrushing and, of course, Slowdive, that trembling space between the high art of contemporary classical music and the simplicity and directness of raw, punk-driven indie pop and folk music. Lattimore, to her credit, seems beyond uninterested in this divide, crossing it out entirely. What matters to her clearly is the pure evocation of music, of crossing the distance between sound, image, and emotional evocation entirely so that they don’t just bleed into one another but instead dissolve within each other entirely. In this regard, Silver Ladders is her most accomplished record yet, not just as a solo performer but including her collaborations as well. The lessons gained there, little insights from her collaborators and a keen critical eye on how those compositions and recordings came together, seem to have been finely recorded by her and put to use here, giving birth to her most sensitive, lush and imagistic set of pieces yet.
And yet Silver Ladders feels less like the closing of a door, less of a culmination of prior thoughts, than the beginning of some new phase. There is a fertility bursting at the seams here; the runtime ends but it doesn’t feel like her ideas have, like she has more and more of this growing and waiting to be unleashed in the years to come. For work as precious and beautiful as this, that is a treasure. This is easily the finest ambient/New Age-oriented record of the year, high praise in a year that contained both a new TENGGER album as well as the new Golden Retriever record. But it’s praise she’s earned, building as capably as she has upon two records in Ghost Forests and New Rain Duets that were already among the very finest of her genre.
Label: Ghostly International
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.