Published on 23rd October 2020
Adenine – Adenine | Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders
For some months I had been waiting for the release of an experimental series of rich, multi-layered soundscapes created on a harp. Post-classical, ambient melodies with a watery theme evoking nature and nostalgia. An ode to the past and to the present, and the flow between them. Minimalist, melancholic and melodic. I’d heard just the smallest snippet of one song, and that wee bit of intrigue had me anticipating the full album with great impatience and excitement. Imagine my surprise, when not only did this long-awaited album arrive, but at approximately the same time another album by a different artist appeared – filling the same brief.
So, to begin with, we have Adenine. This is the ambient alter-ego of Scottish harpist Ailie Robertson. She has released plenty of more traditional harp fare under her own name, but this is her first ambient release – and the music is lush and beautiful. I’ve been listening to it and loving it since being introduced to it in March. Suffice to say, as suggested in my introductory paragraph, this is probably one of the releases I was most looking forward to in October. Adenine opens up with possibly my favourite track, Smirr (which Adenine’s Bandcamp page tells me is a Scottish word to describe a fine, drifting rain or drizzle). The sounds of this smirr are omnipresent in the track, and provide the most gorgeous accompaniment to the sounds of the harp. It’s the most effective use of precipitation as an instrument that I’ve ever encountered, and not at all the cliché that the sound of rain can often take in music.
The watery theme continues with Spindrift, and has a suitably weightless and breathy sound that perfectly evokes the swirling spray blown from creating waves. There’s a sensation of floating, and being carried along – being taken where the wind blows you. Apparently, spindrift in Scotland can also refer to the fine snow that is blown off hills in a similar way. So this is perhaps the intended meaning (though I can’t help but imagine the sea, rather than snow), as the following track is Flindrikin, which is one of (so I’m lead to believe) over 400 words the Scots have for snow. Strangely, a flindrikin is a light shower of snow, while this track feels considerably heavier, and crunchy. Aftak is an easing or lull in a storm, which only furthers the impression that Flindrikin may have been named somewhat ironically. Aftak lives up to its name, a beautiful and quiet oasis of minimalism. The watery theme returns with final track, and my second favourite after Smirr, Haar. A haar is a cold sea fog that is blown inland, but there’s nothing cold about this haar. It’s as perfect a closing number as Smirr was an opening number. This album was well worth the wait.
01. Smirr (9:41)
02. Spindrift (7:04)
03. Flindrikin (5:29)
04. Aftak (9:56)
05. Haar (7:10)
Total Time – 39:10
Ailie Robertson – Harp
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st October 2020
But I’m spoilt, for only eight days later, Mary Lattimore’s Silver Ladders is released. Lattimore may live in the US, but this album was recorded in Newquay amid a Cornish winter, which can be as dreary and drizzly – or should I say dreich? – as the Scottish. Like Adenine, Lattimore’s harp is accompanied by some subtle synth accents and flourishes, but Silver Ladders also features the guitar of Neil Halstead whose addition adds an extra touch. The album opens with Pine Trees, and it’s simple and beautiful, or maybe simply beautiful. My three year old daughter immediately exclaimed, “I like the song!”. I do, too. The following Silver Ladders alludes not to the coast at Newquay, but a memory of the sea at Stari Grad, Croatia. Even if you did not know this, you would surely think of the sea, as this piece has an undeniably aquatic vibe. Its watery notes gently fall, as the synth ebbs and flows beneath.
I love the peaceful, yet ominous tones of Til a Mermaid Drags You Under, somehow caught between drifting and drowning. It’s a beautiful track, but darkly so. Lattimore mentions aspects of her time in Newquay that made their way into her music. One such is “the night walks to the top of the hill to see the moon shining on the water”, which must surely belong to Sometimes He’s in My Dreams? Or maybe I’m ascribing my own memories to the piece, as it evokes the many evenings I gazed down at the St Kilda Surf from the rise above it, lost in silent contemplation of the breaking waves, and the efflorescence of the surf under the moonlight. Despite the anecdote that led to the title of Chop on the Climbout, it’s anything but choppy. And despite being about the sky, I still hear the sea. The thrum of white noise is probably meant to evoke that which is ever-present in the cabin of an aircraft, and yet it’s also eerily similar to the sound of being alone in the sea, letting it all wash and crash over you, or even just the sound you might hear when you put a seashell to your ear. Either way, sea or sky, there’s a sense of floating.
Like Mermaid before it, Don’t Look is a favourite track. Is it because these tracks are longer? Because they have a sense of tragedy? I’m not sure. They are both fairly simple, yet incredibly evocative. And depending on where your attention is, Don’t Look can even offer some genuine jump scares. Thirty Tulips is almost an anticlimactic end to the album after the drama and emotion of Don’t Look, but it soon ingratiates itself, with its pretty melodies, that sound to me like falling rain. Or perhaps I still merely have Adenine in my head?
As different as these two albums are, they do share so many similarities. If you like one, chances are you will like the other, too. It’s all too easy to throw music like this in the too-hard basket, or dismiss it as new age. (By the way, there’s nothing wrong with new age, per se, but a great deal of music labelled that way tends to be soulless and without substance or story.) Maybe as I have a natural love for rain and for the sea, this music speaks more to me, but I’m fairly confident it’s just because these are two damn fine albums. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who enjoys experimental and conceptual ambient sounds should definitely give both Adenine and Silver Ladders a listen.
01. Pine Trees (3:20)
02. Silver Ladders (3:45)
03. Til A Mermaid Drags You Under (10:26)
04. Sometimes He’s In My Dreams (3:46)
05. Chop On The Climbout (5:57)
06. Don’t Look (8:03)
07. Thirty Tulips (4:58)
Total Time – 40:19
Mary Lattimore – Harp
Neil Halstead – Guitar
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 9th October 2020