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Album Of The Week

Such Gravity Without A Centre: Lavinia Blackwall & Laura J Martin Are Wyndow
Johny Lamb , October 7th, 2021 09:32

The self-titled debut from Wyndow finds Laura J Martin and Lavinia Blackwall working out down the worry gym

We live in a time ripe for worry. Such uncertainties and neuroses stain our lives in the ongoing unknowns of the pandemic and its attendant socio-political shifts. We have all spent too much time with ourselves, with various pressures seasoning our days with the long-term effect still a disturbing abstract. Worried self-analysis is an inevitable by-product of recent events.

This eponymous collaboration between Trembling Bells frontwoman Lavinia Blackwall and indie shape-shifter Laura J Martin finds its origins in a shared admiration of Robert Wyatt. The pair initially came together to make a version of ‘Free Will and Testament’, and from this springs a project fraught with ontological introspection as being, wanting, knowledge, and perceived identity all fight for attention across the album’s eleven tracks. These preoccupations eventually find succour in what Martin charmingly calls the “worry gym”.

The making of the album seems to have been a loose approach of file-sharing and remote collaboration. First as necessity and then as deliberate method, allowing each musician to build and edit each track to gradually arrive at a completion not dictated by the band-in-a-room constraints one might find in a more traditional studio setting. The result is rich, warm and embracive. Retaining a good portion of Wyatt-like melody and harmonic detail, owing a lot to jazz, but within and around this there is great timbral exploration, something of past practice from each performer, a compositional approach to production and a well-explicated use of Minimalism where the pattern-based composition of Steve Reich and the like find a comfortable home alongside beautifully chosen chord progressions and glorious fleeting moments of chromatic shifting. Even a cursory listen to second track, ‘All Cameras Gone’, should establish this set of principles well. The chords and vocals weave around the repeated piano pattern with such seamless excellence that it’s hard to even imagine composition happening at all. It’s as if the sound simply exists.

Taking the album as a whole, it’s easy to hear how this all spreads out from Wyatt’s song. The cover itself is all manner of lovely. It’s a cover so deeply understood and carefully rendered that it seems inevitable that there was much more to say. The pair have such an easy, organic relationship to the material that the outward spill of thematic and musical continuation is pretty much a given. As such, the overall topography of the album is one of congruence and robust aesthetic sensibility. The tracks absolutely belong to each other and I, for one, can’t really conceive of the songs in isolation. This is perhaps the best kind of album. One that must be consumed over time, as a whole.

‘Third Tea of the Day’ is perhaps the most folk-like, with modal vocals resolving into major key phrases while flute and prog-folk runs blow through like strong winds worrying the landscape. This relationship between troubled musical waters and motion to steady comforting passages is a structural theme of the album. The unremittingly pretty ‘Pulling on a String’ is a great example of this, where simple, satisfying piano ballading rolls daintily to a chorus of unsettling chromatic changes and angular vocal harmonies before slumping back into weary but relaxed unison, as both voices play out the verse’s lilting sentiment, before again changing gear again and breaking the surface tension and making our surroundings choppy again. It’s unsurprising perhaps that Iwan Morgan and Marco Rea have a hand in this album as Euros Childs (whom both have worked with as producer and guitarist respectively, roles that they reprise here) is a useful reference to this kind of compositional method. And the approach is a fruitful one, the musical tensions and atmospheric conjuring allow for a listening experience that is at once textured and dense, but which allows a tremendous sense of intimacy. There is an effect of closeness in tracks like opener ‘Never Alone’ and ‘Woven in Thread’ that feels like the musicians are right there with you. Whispering woes to comfort, even as they pull at difficult psychological strings.

Woodwind plays a huge part in this record, creating a dark and timbrally warm envelopment of piano and guitar, both of which are relentlessly clean in tone. This fact makes the flute, clarinet, and other blown sounds all the more important as they soften the gleaming edges of those brighter sounds. It is wonderfully judged and intelligently arranged. While the tones themselves are clean, there is a subtle gauze and hiss to the overall sound that, like the woodwind provides a softness that smooths and presents a musical outcome like well-turned wood. Combined, these elements make a soothing bed for string instruments to occupy the higher frequencies with great clarity without the need for volume. There is a delightful sense of luxury to these recordings.

Album closer ‘Tidal Range’ uses all the elements we’ve heard but with a slight shift toward krautrock (the press release cites La Düsseldorf here), without compromising the other stylistic avenues. A quiet, delayed drum machine gives just enough motorik repetition in the early stages of the song to allow in this further musical trope to bleed into a pastoral, folkish lullaby. Truthfully, I could live without the scalic guitar motif here, but I’m nit-picking now.

Lyrically, this pastoral notion is fitting. We are presented variously with leaves, spiders, and the sea. We also find musings upon the analogue: “Some legacies await from catching time” they sing on ‘Take My Picture’. The worry and introspection of the songs is gentle I suppose, but no less effective for it and carries the minutiae of Wyatt’s lyricism serenely from idea to idea. Those little details, however trivial they might appear, bring with them a profundity that matches the sophistication of the musical setting and production world. I have used the imagery of water a few times as I write this, and it’s appropriate I think; the album meanders, disturbs, bubbles, and runs. It eddies and curves as all springs and rivers must do to find open water at brackish estuary. I feel a real sense of achievement in this album, and I look forward to sitting back in darkening evenings with this as a soundtrack. Beautiful and intelligent stuff from musicians at the top of their game.