03 Oct Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler – Slant of Light Album Review (Thrill Jockey Records)
Slant of Light is a short and sweet suite of four improvisations created with a limited and exotic palette of harp, synthesizer, and electric guitar. Both performers take their instruments into new realms of harmony, melody, and technique, while analog synth forms a nebulous backdrop, to abstract the visions and make you see stars. Each of the pieces is built around a separate lead. “Welsh Corgis in the Snow”, the most serene and crystalline offering, is constructed around a simple, repeating harp pattern in two parts, while Zeigler fills in the negative space with synth warbles. It is immediately apparent that the pair are really listening, which is the most essential skill for an improviser.
A beautiful, distant delayed guitar takes the lead for “The White Balloon”, with Lattimore picking out a barebones, bittersweet melody, for added poignancy and depth. Slant of Light was recorded by Zeigler in a white-out snowstorm during the winter of 2014, and on “The White Balloon”, there is a feeling of staring wistfully out the window. As we head into the chillier, more reflective months of the year, this would be an appropriate soundtrack to many Christmas-lit living rooms, or for staring out dark glass.
“Echo Sounder” is the most dissonant track on Slant of Light, reminding us that there is one more dimension to the afterlife. The synth pads take center stage here, like a soft carpet of cirrus clouds leading up to the pearly gates, while Lattimore plucks and scrapes all manner of metallic shapes from her harp. This might be the sound of perceiving paradise through a chemical daze, or of a clockwork heaven; it is both beautiful and unsettling, in equal amounts, and stops the record from being a two-note offering.
Mary Lattimore & Jeff Zeigler – “The White Balloon” Music Video
Mary and Jeff wrote “The White Balloon” after learning of the tragic death of a friend. Though she and Jeff did not want the video to literally represent that person or that event, we decided the video should explore the idea of what happens when someone “disappears” — the traces that people leave after they are gone.
The location was like a dream — a cabin in the countryside in North Carolina that has been in Mary’s family for generations. Built in the Civil War and full of family legend, the cabin has been lovingly tended “with layers of legacy,” as Mary described it to me — a place where there are both the remnants of what has been lost, and what remains.
Both Lattimore and Zeigler take their abilities to the limit — pushing their instruments to new harmonic plateaus — on “Tomorrow Is A Million”, the longest outing at a head-spinning 12 minutes. Eerie theremin warbles give a weightless feel while Lattimore trills about on two or three notes that are more eddies than melodies; delayed scrapes and metallic harmonics from Zeigler’s guitar add to the unsettled sensibility. “Tomorrow Is A Million” is less a song than an astral state that you inhabit for a couple of lifetimes, with instruments emerging like disembodied figures from the dense fog.
Mary Lattimore and Jeff Zeigler are both exceptional improvisors. They take turns, switching roles for one to hold it together while the other dances, weaves, and texturizes. The interesting tonal combination of harp and affected guitar makes sure that this is a record unlike any other. Slant of Light is a paradisiacal New Age or cosmic synth record mixed with free music and free noise experimentation, guaranteed to take you places, or tailor-made for oncoming introspection.