Mary Lattimore’s evocative soundscapes are too often framed by the absence of other contemporary harpists. Her previous work has been compared to both the prog folk odysseys of Joanna Newsom and neo-renaissance fanfare, two milquetoast associations that only highlight the true singularity to her expansive, nebulous musings. Her latest record, Silver Ladders, recorded with Slowdive’s Neil Halstead over nine days along the English Coast, widens that musical gap with her most implacable work yet. Over seven tracks, Lattimore and Halstead create darkly ethereal moods that could only emanate from forty-plus strings in constant motion.
Silver Ladders squarely begins in the forest, with the windswept waltz of “Pine Trees”. Unlike Hundreds of Days, Lattimore’s first big leap into the instrumental canon, there is immediately a newfound richness and depth to every single pluck. Although Halstead had never previously recorded a harp, he fits right at home with the robust tonalities of such a delicate instrument. The relative quick cutoff of the harp creates an entirely new ambient palette to draw from, leagues away from the resonant overtones of any type of keyboard. Using loop pedals and hushed bass notes, the opening track eventually swells into a profound mantra full of both empty space and lulling immersion. From here on out, Lattimore thrives in this liminal space between texture and stark melody.
The title track functions similarly, focusing on the harp’s movements and oscillations. The name comes from a trip Lattimore took to Croatia, where she found herself climbing down “silver ladders right into the sea”. Thematically and literally, it begins to destabilize the grounded clarity of the harp, further drifting into murky, ominous territory.
The following track, “Til A Mermaid Drags You Under,” is an early apotheosis, a ten-minute descent into more unexplored timbres. The pulse of Halstead’s guitar creates even more space for the flurry of Lattimore’s arpeggios. It’s one of the few moments where the influence Slowdive’s stark shoegaze becomes apparent, calling back to the hushed ruminations of Pygmalion. While Lattimore operates well in smaller moments, the lengthy runtime is necessary to hammer in the tactile, opaque beauty of quick plucking. It appropriately sounds like the overwhelming fury of the ocean in riptide, sucking the listener deeper into some grotesque transcendence.
In turn, the rest of the album continues sinking into abstraction, adding the occasional synthesizer or bass to heighten tension. Lattimore’s specialization begins to encroach into the realm of storytelling, with fluctuating notes and chords exploring the more nuanced shades of feeling. “Chop On The Climbout” paints a vignette of a turbulent plane ride, ending with a wall of sound once melodic notes can no longer functionally depict a mood. Album highlight “Don’t Look” almost breaches the hypnosis with a more classically indebted melody before the harp spirals out of control like a creaky ceiling fan. “Thirty Tulips” closes the record with a sampler of what’s come before, drifting through every octave and— as a culminating thesis of Lattimore’s work— reaching brief moments of clarity among the waves. (Josh Hughes)