As the legend goes, mermaid songs charmed their listeners so fully that they drowned them. The same tug is present in Mary Lattimore’s newest release Silver Ladders, where the LA-based harpist teams up with Slowdive’s Neil Halstead in his studio in an old airfield in Cornwall to create a haunting set of pieces that weave together local tales, personal travels and snippets from conversations.
While previous albums like At the Dam (2016) or Hundreds of Days were so soothing they had a bit of a Thai spa or 8-hour Youtube study video feel to them, more experimental releases like Lattimore’s debut The Withdrawing Room (2013) or Ghost Forests (2018, in collaboration with Meg Baird) were bolder testimonies to the disturbingly beautiful potential of the harp. Silver Ladders follows in the footsteps of the latter two and combines harp, synth and guitar with ethereal grace without sounding like the soundtrack to Interstellar.
While many pieces on Lattimore’s earlier albums easily blended into each other like one long, borderless dream in a Marc Chagall landscape, the tracks on Silver Ladders are more defined and stand out as ambient but characterful compositions. Pine Trees, the opening track, is a ‘reaching-the-top-of-a-mountain-lake’ experience, both meditative and awake. Chops on the Climbout starts with a synthesised sequence that makes you think you’ve gone deaf after standing next to a fog horn – and before you know it, you’re rocking back and forth between deep, dulled buzzes and sharp, firefly-like high notes, ending in some kind of beachy white noise.
Other pieces like the title-giving Silver Ladders, Don’t Look or Tila mermaid drags you under (no coincidence!), with their irregularity and aquatic lightness, remind of Japanese ambient music from the 1980s paired with a bit of Warren Ellis’ fractured beauty. Sparkly silver bead notes are woven into loops, micro noise and reverb that is never too over-powering or woozy. Lattimore’s tracks evoke a graceful ebb and flow that allows you to imagine the galactic and microscopic at the same time – the closing piece, “Thirty Tulips”, feels like two particles of dust are having a stand-off on the edge of the milkyway. I could probably try to put this on as my meditation music, but I wouldn’t get very far: oddly, the experience of the album isn’t exactly relaxing. There is a gently disturbing undercurrent of something bottomless and unknown, which is just uncomfortable enough it keeps you on your toes. The narrative of the 7 pieces is too inquisitive and focused to allow you to let go fully. This is not music to fall asleep to – it’s the sound of rising.
Silver Ladders is released on 9 October by Ghostly.