Mary Lattimore, “Yesterday's Parties” (Ghostly International)
We've been enjoying a serious harp-music renaissance this century, and Mary Lattimore ranks among the most evocative artists in this field. With renewed interest in the decades-old works of jazz harpists Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby and the emergence of younger savants of this instrument such as Nala Sinephro, Joanna Newsom, Brandee Younger, and Lara Somogyi, listeners have never been so inundated with sublime music from this celestial sound generator.
Over the last 11 years, Lattimore has been busy releasing quietly enthralling records on esteemed labels such as Thrill Jockey, Three Lobed, and Constellation Tatsu. While harp generally has thrived in the jazz, classical, and New Age genres, Lattimore has helped to make it a more prominent and glistening presence in electronic- and experimental-music contexts. On her latest album, Goodbye, Hotel Arkada, Lattimore enlists several underground-rock luminaries (Slowdive's Rachel Goswell, New Zealand guitarist Roy Montgomery, Meg Baird, Thurston Moore collaborator Samara Lubelski, and the Cure's Lol Tolhurst). The personnel may be slightly surprising, but the spare, delicately beautiful compositional style that's marked Lattimore's output to date remains intact.
The album starts with “And Then He Wrapped His Wings Around Me”—a collab with Baird—which bears the solemnly ethereal air of a Spacemen 3 hymn. Its gloriously graceful melody and textures cohere into a shimmering orb in a heavenly web. The trepidatious, bejeweled, and stately “Arrivederci” bears no trace of the Cure, despite Tolhurst's synth work on the track. The Montgomery-assisted “Blender in a Blender” blooms into a majestic orchestral opus that has the potential to make Sigur Rós and Explosions in the Sky fans swoon into their scarves. Not at all as superficial as the title would lead you to believe, “Music for Applying Shimmering Eye Shadow” is an extraordinarily moving and sweeping drone-and-spangle piece that would enhance any Hollywood film's peak pathos scene.
It's hard to choose a favorite on Goodbye, Hotel Arkada, but “Yesterday's Parties” ultimately wins my vote. The song begins like a tribute to Funkadelic's “Maggot Brain”; it's almost as achingly beautiful as Eddie Hazel's guitar solo on that classic 1970 instrumental. Gradually, though, it sprouts tendrils of Lubelski's empathic violin drones and Goswell's sheerest, glazed, sub-zero vocal—of which I can't understand a word, but it doesn't matter. The singer's sense of soaring tranquility translates, regardless. What a luminous way to end an album.
Mary Lattimore performs October 17 at the Triple Door.
All the Wow & Twice the Flutter, “UMedium II” (All the Wow & Twice the Flutter)
All the Wow and Twice the Flutter is the verbosely whimsical alias of Seattle multi-instrumentalist Dave Knott. He's toiled in the city's underground-music scene for about the last quarter century, playing with sonic illuminati such as Climax Golden Twins, Messenger Girls Trio, Eye Music, and Animist Orchestra. Besides being a US Army vet, luthier, and a musical therapist, Knott's a versatile improviser who can thrive in serious avant-garde settings or in more playful musical situations.
As a solo artist under the All the Wow and Twice the Flutter handle, Knott released Making Fire with Frogs (2017), which featured field recordings of frogs, insects, fire, and snapping branches to create a surprisingly unnerving aural tapestry; the insectoid chittering really triggered my tinnitus. By contrast, the new Becalming Soodles & Nerve Doubt Jammers (available through Bandcamp digitally and on cassette) is a more conventional, song-based release that will make even staunch dislikers of ukulele—such as your blogger—reassess their biases toward this overly twee instrument. It also possesses the benefit of soothing your fevered mind, as you'd expect from a musical therapist.
By dint of its miniature size, the ukulele naturally confers a sonic intimacy, especially when played by a skilled soloist such as Knott. He eludes the uke's limitations with his facility for traditional folk, blues, and the minimalism of American innovators such as Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Henry Flynt. Knott's knack for tender melodiousness and mesmerizing repetition makes this 22-track album a pleasurable breeze to bask in, and fans of Penguin Cafe Orchestra should dig it.
As an enthusiast for minimalism, I gravitated toward tracks such as “Reductive Addition, of the original incrementious form,” “Thrummy,” “Bedumpy,” “UMedium I,” and “UMedium II.” The latter moves you deeply with utmost economy; I never thought a ukulele piece would make me teary-eyed, but that's a testament to Knott's advanced skills. He's twined poignancy with hypnosis in a way that only those operating on a higher vibration can achieve.
All the Wow and Twice the Flutter performs a free show on October 21, 3 pm-5 pm, at Zeitgeist Art & Coffee.