At A Closer Listen, we’re bittersweet whenever a favorite instrumental artist shifts to the world of lyrics; but we rejoice when a lyrical artist shifts into the instrumental world. This is the case with Loraine James, who captured the hearts of forward-thinking electronic fans everywhere with her Hyperdub albums For You and I and Reflection.
And so it is a joy to hear James’ self-titled release as Whatever the Weather, which may catch some fans off guard; hopefully everyone on her mailing list will be aware of the new incarnation. There’s no r&b or grime to be found here; instead, one might classify the sound as a combination of ambience and IDM (ADM?). Fittingly, it’s not a far cry from “Change,” the longest track on last year’s album, especially if one dives right into the opening single, “17°C.” The energetic dance video follows a young woman who walks into an open field, tears in her eyes, watches day turn into night and sees the stars rearrange as strange lights appear in the sky. She feels compelled to dance, first tentatively, then ecstatically, finally forming a mandala with multiplied images of herself. She is not abducted, but entranced, returning to daytime at the end, exhausted but hopefully not depleted.
There are other tempo-driven tracks here as well, especially “0°C,” “4°C” and “30°C,” although the latter two differ in another way we’ll discuss in a moment. One might consider these pieces the doors through which current fans might enter. James’ moniker, combined with the temperature variance, suggests that one is invited to dance, whatever the weather, or in a socio-political sense, whatever the tone of societal discussion or the interactive risk level.
But there’s a second entry point, beginning with the album’s restrained opener, “25°C,” which the label descriptively calls “a sunshower of soft hums and keys.” Whatever the weather, we are also pushed toward contemplation. (U.S. readers, remember that 32 degrees Fahrenheit is 0 degrees Celsius!) The album’s midsection tilts toward spring, the piano-led “14°C” followed by one of only two tracks to boast a subtitle: “Intermittent Rain.” Then there’s a momentary retreat, like snow in April, before summer enters in full force.
“4°C” and “30°C” arrive late in the album and contain voice; there’s something about summer that makes one want to sing. The former is abstract, operating as another instrument, while the latter ~ representing the sudden 26-degree rise ~ is clear-cut. You see the light again, intones James; you see the fight again. This couplet may be a metaphor for spiritual reawakening following a period of stasis. Pointing toward light, toward hope, toward activity, James’ positive conclusion operates as encouragement; whatever weather we are experiencing, a change is on the way. (Richard Allen)