Mary Lattimore and Walt McClements
Photo: Rachael Cassells / Thrill Jockey

Mary Lattimore and Walt McClements Create Order with the ‘Rain on the Road’

Call it experimental or ambient: harpist Mary Lattimore and accordionist Walt McClements sonically ruminate on their repetitive cycle between life and music.

Rain on the Road
Mary Lattimore and Walt McClements
Thrill Jockey
10 May 2024

Since 2012, Mary Lattimore has released several solo and collaborative albums, including her widely-praised 2018 release, Hundreds of Days. She’s also collaborated and recorded with Meg Baird, Jeff Zeigler, Thurston Moore, and Kurt Vile. Walt McClements is a multi-instrumentalist best known for his work in expanding the strictures of the accordion. The pair met on overlapping tours, where they first began imagining this music. Both musicians are based in Los Angeles, where the album was eventually recorded in McClements’ apartment throughout a recent rainy December.

Fittingly so, as this is a collection of music composed of melodies that fall and dissipate, harp plucks that double as raindrops, ever-shifting and familiar. There’s never a hurry. Each song becomes a study of itself, and each musical idea is repeated and altered until it sounds like itself again. Lattimore describes the collection as “letting melodies unspool with your close friend, no rush, nowhere to really be”.

We are called first to attention with a bell and a big one from the sound of it. It’s safe to say that “Stolen Bells” would have been the result if Angelo Badalamenti had been more into handbells. McClements accordion here is sweeping, epic even. The aforementioned bells are immersive and unnerving, as you probably haven’t heard them like this before.

At over 12 minutes each, the following two pieces resemble mini-scores for short films not yet made. “The Poppies, the Wild Mustard, the Blue-Eyed Grass” harkens back to the wordless introspection of the composer Harold Budd, particularly his 1978 minimalist masterpiece, The Pavilion of Dreams. Lattimore’s harp explores liminality here, starts as guide and becomes the city upon which this sonic world is built. 

“We Waited for the Bears to Leave” feels like a forgotten track from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’s 2007 film score to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Again, McClements’ accordion stretches out, as big and forlorn as a church organ in a western frontier town. Lattimore’s harp becomes the rhythmic center of the piece, rippling and repeating melodic climbs and falls. There’s a unique resolution here that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the album, idyllic or otherwise.  

At the beginning of “Nest of Earrings”, McClements whispers, “Oh my God, Mary…Do you see the babies?” It’s tough to make out the rest of their conversation as the music fades in, but it is clear that they are both looking at something natural and trying to convey their individual wonder to each other. Through some magic, the pair are able to convey the paranoid ticking of clocks, giving this the most recognizable rhythm of the album.   

In the final track, “The Top of Thomas Street”, McClements finally strikes the keys of a piano. It’s sort of a jarring sound, perhaps even regal. While built out of more traditional chords and structures, this last piece invokes notions of home, or as close as one can even get to it anymore. Here, the pair try to make a treatise with the silence that arrives after the music is through, and the spirituality is non-denominational.  

Call it experimental, ambient, or hell, even indie agnostic. With these five pieces, Lattimore and McClements sonically reflect on each of their repetitive cycles between life and music on an album that feels like it ought to be submerged in, as well as listened to. It never challenges outright, instead opting for a churning of musical ruminations. What it forgoes in aggression, it replaces with charm, creating a collection of soundscapes full of meditative redemption.

Save this one for your next late-night subway ride or highway drive on a rain-soaked morning. You won’t be let down.

RATING 8 / 10