Wonder what it takes for an album earn a spot on the KALX Top 35? Check out our album review for one of the most played records in June, Mary Lattimore’s Hundreds of Days.
Standing on the edge of a precipice can afford you a certain perspective. It allows you to see the expansiveness and possibility of being, to feel a sense of wonder and terror all at once. Harpist Mary Lattimore’s new Ghostly International release Hundreds of Days is a product of that perspective. Written while she was a resident at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin County and recorded while she moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, the album features Lattimore’s exploration of the harp, as well as of other instruments new to her. The inclusion of guitar, theremin, synthesizer, and vocals in an otherwise voiceless and harp-heavy discography culminates in her most complex album to date.
The album starts with the 12-minute song “It Feels Like Floating”, in which the scales on Lattimore’s harp in conjunction with shimmering synthesizers border on New Age territory, without fully crossing the threshold. As the harp loops into her ethereal vocals, the song crescendos into a fully fleshed-out piece, creating an elaborate landscape of sound. What is particularly interesting about this song is what Lattimore chooses to include: loud picking noises on her harp, static pitch as the crescendo fades out, an aimless theremin solo. These pockets of imperfection create a sonic journey which allows for a holistic listening experience with a varied yet harmonious sound.
Lattimore continues on with “Never Saw Him Again”, a beautiful track that demonstrates the potentiality of ambient classical music. Starting with ascendant scales on her harp, she is accompanied by a church organ, evoking an almost religious feel. The song builds to a Wall of Sound-esque melody, simultaneously bolstering the harp and overtaking it. It fizzles out into reverse-recorded and looped harp lines, only to be brought back to Earth by deep, precise tones. The separate arrangements soon intermingle, constructing an airy, angelic conclusion that fades out as delicately as it came in.
The direction of the album changes toward the dramatic on “Hello from the Edge of the Earth” (which is quite fitting, considering Lattimore’s stay in Marin). The harp starts out sharp and delicate, without any special effects. Lattimore evokes feelings of sorrow and melancholy wordlessly, aided by vaporous synth lines in the background. This track acts as a prelude to “Baltic Birch”, in which Lattimore loops and warps a delicate harp line, making it shimmer. She introduces moody guitar riffs halfway through, further imbuing it with sorrowful, dramatic elements. Filled with unease and transitory tension, “Baltic Birch” is a definite standout on the album.
After the more pop-centric and guitar-heavy “Their Faces Streaked with Light and Filled with Pity”, Lattimore finishes with “On the Day You Saw the Dead Whale”, a slower song which wraps up all those preceding feelings of joy, heft, sorrow, and melancholy in devastating beauty. The use of classical piano makes its debut in this track, coupled with an atmospheric sound effect which both draws to mind a familiar sound and builds a new one altogether. Think Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports. Lattimore’s harp-and-piano duet is touching beyond words; it is dreamy and relaxing, seemingly slowing down time as the album closes out. The foundation of the track lies on an angelic hiss which crescendos over time, providing a spacious sound to the melody. The hiss fades out just as it all comes to an unexpected end.
Within the field of ambient music, Mary Lattimore continues to innovate and rework the possibilities of the harp with Hundreds of Days. In addition to her transformation of the harp, she plays with the ebbs and flows of novelty and familiarity through new instrumentation and tones. Lattimore deftly captures both the liveliness and the harrowing feelings of change, inducing a lightness into the overarching sense of melancholy. This record does not just stay with you; it will leave you floating.
Chandler graduated with a Media Studies degree from Cal and has been at KALX since 2014. When she’s not snuggling pups or cooking, you can hear her on the air as Hella Bent.