Mary Lattimore, the classically trained harpist has risen as an incredible experimental artist through her solo releases, starting off with her debut record The Withdrawing Room. Even more impressive was Lattimore’s 2018 Hundred of Days, which found her expanding her scope further, investigating the harp and other instrumentation in a very unusual way and constructing a fantastic ambient work. However, Lattimore has not been isolated to her experimental machinations. She has also crossed over to the indie scene and collaborated with many famed indie musicians, including the likes of Thurston Moore, Kurt Ville, and Steve Gunn.
In this collaboration, Lattimore stands alongside another iconic indie musician Mat McCaughan. McCaughan has wandered joyfully to a few different musical realms, be it the energetic punk rock domain with Superchunk or the sentimental lo-fi with Partastatic. No matter the case, what has always remained constant for McCaughan was his DIY ethic, and also his intrinsic curiosity towards experimentation. It is exactly this willingness to try strange things and experiment that brings this duo together, and result in New Rain Duets.
This is a work of world-building and atmosphere craftsmanship. Starting from McCaughan’s synthesizer, the record is introduced through glacial movements that paint with broad brushstrokes the soundscapes. This is where the foundation of this album lies, and that is the core of its beauty. On top of this minimal progression, Lattimore and McCaughan further expand, adding flourishes and enriching this sparse scenery. And they do so in more ways than one.
Despite its ambient approach and almost drone quality, there are times when this work is imbued by a defined sense of structure. That is in particular prevalent with “II” as Lattimore leads the way, producing variations on the main theme of the track. It is a stunning instance of emotional quality, which gets dragged out for minutes, and reaches a peak when McCaughan’s synths arise. It is this moment that completely unveils the sheer beauty of this work, its delicate touch and underplayed narrative.
Yet, Lattimore and McCaughan possess more than one gear and they can move out of their standardized progression and move towards an improvisational paradigm. That is where the duo truly shines, as Lattimore takes a more energetic and verbose approach, creating a stream of consciousness progression. Her playing transforms the surrounding soundscapes. In “I” for example, she is transitioning gracefully from dissonant notions to a series of beautiful phrases. McCaughan also follows that lead, joining in this haze of emotions and concepts, halfway into the opening track, producing a piercing cacophony that majestically combines with Lattimore’s harp.
In the end, New Rain Duets radiates with a magical feeling. This exercise in world-building has been completely successful for the two artists, and they transfer the listener to a desolate setting, a place where you find yourself alone in nature. The essence of this atmosphere has its blueprint in a Faulkner-ian scenery, with a subtly dark element. It is something that is always present, no matter if the music arrives with an ambient and minimal sense or a verbose and structured form. It is with an uncanny ability that the duo retain their focus through the twists and turns of this work and enhance its storytelling element as the record progress. It speaks volumes to the artistic aptitude of Lattimore and McCaughan and to how intricate a work they have produced with New Rain Duets.
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