On her 2013 first album Sleeper, Carmen Hillestad, aka Carmen Villain, served a dense psychedelic rock brew, with her ghostly vocals, reverb-laden guitars, and deadened synths. On her following 2017 album Infinite Avenue, she stripped back the noise to sing dreamy psychedelic folk songs, majorly using acoustic instruments. While there were minor changes in tone, psychedelic tropes overarched her debut and sophomore albums, seemingly setting a foundation for more of the same aesthetic.
However, Hillestad’s latest album Both Lines Will Be Blue veers hard from her last two albums. Trading her vocals and guitars for synths, flutes, field recordings, and even zithers, the seven-track album moves away from her psychedelic roots for spacious ambient dub.
With her vocals and guitars removed from the mix, the flute melodically dominates Both Lines Will Be Blue. With the flutist Johanna Scheie Orellana, Hillestad often improvised, welcoming melodies to emerge unfettered. She explained about Orellana, “turns out we both have a natural affinity for making melodies that sound like they come from the mountains in Latin America; maybe our mutual background with Latin parents?” As such, the Norwegian-Mexican Hillestad and the Chilean-Norwegian Orellana found harmony in Andrean melodies.
The opener “Observable Future” immediately begins Hillestad’s exploration of Andean melodies through ambient dub. The flute leads the subtle synthscape. With minimal composition, the opener truly features Orellana’s improvisation. Similarly, “I Could Sit Here All Day” flaunts a soothing flute melody. But this time, the flute is paired with the atmospherics of gleaming synths and zithers. Whether the composition is sparse or layered, Hillestad finds room for Orellana’s flute improvisations to flourish melodically.
Yet, while Both Lines Will Be Blue certainly explores Andean melodies, even more, it considers ambiance. As such, Hillestad’s most intriguing tracks are more concerned with using the flute to blend into atmospheres, rather than lead them. For instance, on “Type”, the evolving atmosphere swallows the flute melodies. While the menacing dub beat and melancholic flute begin to resemble Skream’s “Rutten”, unlike the said reference, Hillestad’s cut unexpectedly blossoms inspiriting layers of pianos and hazy synths. And on “Impossible Colour”, the flute patiently progresses from wind tones to full melodies, but the staggering water droplets and delicate piano chords truly seize the atmosphere. For these tracks, Orellana’s flute improvisations accompany Hillestad’s already rich instrumentals.
Hillestad’s first fully instrumental album brings about an intriguing exploration of Andean melodies through ambient dub. With such a drastic aesthetic change from her prior albums, it is difficult to suppose whether she will continue to explore dub music or return to her psychedelic roots. She already surprised once, shifting from singing acoustic tunes to fully producing and mixing dub tracks by herself. But of course, this uncertainty makes it even more exciting to see where Hillestad will take on next.