The first album from this duo is at its best when it finds shape within its wide-open borders, when it cuts a path through all that bright light.
Mary Lattimore and Jeff Zeigler are a new duo, but they are hardly new musicians. Lattimore cut her teeth playing with the likes of Kurt Vile, Meg Baird, Thurston Moore and others while Zeigler's band Arc in Round has played with many bands, including the War on Drugs and A Sunny Day in Glasgow. The two players have long meshed with different sounding bands but also musicians who all themselves stretch out and expand their artistic palates, so it should be no surprise that when Lattimore and Zeigler got together, the resulting album is itself an ever-expanding and subtle set of sonic layers.
Slant of Light was recorded by Zeigler during a major snow storm in Philadelphia, and the album sounds, at least in part, like its hiding. It's a quiet, warm bloom of sound quietly moving along, hoping the cold storm passes it by. Lattimore is a skilled harpist, and her intricate melodies both mesh and tangle in turns with Zeigler's more atmospheric playing. He adds guitar and synthesizer to melt the edges of these songs and make them sound as if they could almost stretch out forever.
Opener "Welsh Corgis in the Snow" starts with Lattimore's isolated harp, plucking out a soft, pastoral melody. It's a sweet and circular sound, one that etches itself out of the silence around it. Zeigler's effects swirl in a minute later, but carefully, by degrees. First there's one small astral shimmer, then another, then one more. Finally the keys come in like a burst of light behind Lattimore, making every soft note from the harp give off shimmering crystals rather than dust. The two trade focus, as we yaw back and forth from Lattimore's repeated phrasings and the swell of Zeigler's synthesizers. It's a careful piece, slow and deliberate in its movement, and one that also seems both natural and otherworldly. It begins as an intimate piece and eventually turns that intimacy inside out into something larger, more all-encompassing.
It's a fitting introduction to this four-piece album, and perhaps its finest moment. "The White Balloon" is a brief, guitar-driven tune that ups the intimate nature of the record, and turns down the shimmer. The effect is more immediate, even more scuffed up around the edges, which is a nice counterpart to the refinement of "Welsh Corgis in the Snow". "Echo Sounder" runs just past seven minutes, but it more impressionistic than either of those other songs. Lattimore's harp is a thing unmoored, sprawling through small windows of space between the crests of Zeigler's waves of sound. It never quite takes the shape of the album's opener, but it pushes the limits of the duo's sound in interesting ways. Closer "Tomorrow is a Million" is the biggest moment here at nearly 12 minutes, and it too pushes at those limits. The playing here is more dissonant, as the one rolling riff that starts the proceedings gets crowded by echoing fills and clatter. Those fills work their way into a gray, blinding fog of sound, as grinding as it is stagnant. The song plays like a shadow to counter the hazy brightness of the rest of the record, but it's telling that the song is much better in its second half, when those slants of light do being to peek back through.
Mary Lattimore and Jeff Zeigler are impressive in casting a complex brightness in the best parts of Slant of Light. It's an album at its best when it finds shape within its wide-open borders, when it cuts a path through all that bright light. When it turns towards the dark and dissonant, the sounds still work but they don't counter the sunburst of better moments so much as they distract from them. There's a natural texture to the best parts of this, and Lattimore and Zeigler reveal a chemistry early on in the record that belies the short time they've worked together. It's when they seem to be feeling their way through their songs, as opposed to over-thinking some later moments, that the two shine.