Updated: Apr 5, 2022
This is the first 2020 Ambient post of the year!
I took a break from the blog over the festive period, as I needed a bit of a break from blog writing, as well as my creative writing and visual art work.
Although it’s now nearing the end of January and the days are slowly getting lighter, I’m still feeling the winter blues. For 2020 Ambient #6, I wanted to share an album that feels wintery to me: Silver Ladders by Mary Lattimore.
Before Silver Ladders, I hadn’t listened to much Mary Lattimore. Despite releasing at least one album since 2012, and collaborating with legends such as Thurston Moore, Julianna Barwick, Marissa Nadler, and Jarvis Cocker, it wasn’t until her 2020 album I started to fully pay attention to her outside of her guest spots. I’ve been playing catch up with her back catalogue since. Lattimore is a classically trained harpist from North Carolina, based in Los Angeles. Her music is better suited for the lakes and forests of her home state than the city of L.A. While her recordings have incorporated keyboards, synths, Theremins, vocals and more, the harp is the dominant instrument. On Silver Ladders the harp is front of stage, as normal, but at times it feels like it’s the only instrument.
With just a harp, loops and effects pedals, Mary Lattimore creates an Abstract Expressionist landscape in sound, aided by Neil Halstead. Halstead, as a member of the revered shoegaze band Slowdive, is no stranger to writing songs that focus on sound, and the feelings sound can induce, rather than traditional song structure. Together Lattimore and Halstead recorded Silver Ladders in Newquay, on the north coast of Cornwall. Not surprising, considering how this is the perfect album to listen to walking along the coast on a cold day. It’s interesting to think of how this change of location may have affected the recording of the album: how might it have sounded if it had been recorded in L.A, or any other city, for that matter? Silver Ladders *sounds* like a rural, coastal town.
This album feels like more of a collaboration between two artists, rather than one person’s work, which surprises me that it’s released only under Mary Lattimore’s name. This collaboration is strongest on ‘Til A Mermaid Drags You Under’, the third track, a 10-minute odyssey where Halstead’s reverbed, dissonant guitar dances with Lattimore’s leading harp melodies. The solemn, steady bassline pulls the pieces together, keeping them in balance, as they continue to dance from the murky depths of the ocean to the surface where redemption can be found. On ‘Sometimes He’s in My Dreams’ Halstead’s guitar can also be heard, almost acting like the “he” the title refers to. The song is restless, yearning for peace from the “he” that haunts Lattimore’s dreams.
Silver Ladders is concerned with memory, and the evocation of memory through moments in nature. Opener ‘Pine Trees’ remembers a walk through a pine forest. The song is light, gentle; a tentative yet compelling beginning to the album, immediately juxtaposed with the titular second track, which is halting, uneasy, inspired by a swim near the Croatian Island of Hvar. Tracks like ‘Silver Ladders’ evoke the restless beauty of nature, and humanity’s complicated relationship with nature, such as on ‘Don’t Look’. Modern life acts as a barrier between us and appreciating nature; which is why people becoming so concerned with climate change, and taking an interest in astrology, astronomy, snapping pictures of sunsets feels like an objection to the fast-paced, don’t-look-up consumer capitalist way of living.
This album reminds me of attempting to reconnect with nature during the lockdowns. For many of us, nature was solace, even just a city park. Silver Ladders reminds me of my first experiences exploring the beaches and forests of the South Hams, where my partner is from. And in return, showing my partner the beach attached to my hometown, the South Wales coast, and climbing a hill to the reservoir in the rain and getting soaked. On Silver Ladders — and throughout her work — Mary Lattimore doesn’t create worlds, but brings them to her with softness and compassion, allowing the sounds and worlds she brings to her music to be worn like a weighted blanket.
Mary Lattimore’s new release, Collected Pieces 2015-2020: was released January 2022, bringing together her Collected Pieces I & II released into one album.
Mary Lattimore interviewed for Harp Column: