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Wilma Vritra
Grotto Jon Buckland , May 10th, 2022 07:40

Wilma Archer and Odd Future's Vritra go deeper underground

Coming together via, I assume, a secret network of tunnels that stretch from Los Angeles to London, Wilma Archer and Vritra have followed up their 2019 collaboration, Burd, with the subterranean assemblage,Grotto. Despite the name, the production on Grotto is anything but dank. Archer’s sound palette has made a huge leap forward from the understated lo-fi sounds on Burd. Boasting a vast array of strings, orchestral swells, and coated in full technicolor luminescence, Grotto is an album for synaesthetes.

Archer has picked up where Crack Cloud’s Gerry Anderson plunder left off and successfully ran with it, pairing ‘Marina’s Theme’ with the syrupy haze of early-2010s psychedelic hip-hop, peddled by Flatbush Zombies, The Underachievers, and Vritra’s former crew, Odd Future. At other points Grotto is daubed in pastel colours with tones and palettes that recall Testarossa, the 2016 collaboration between Serengeti & Why?’s Yoni Wolf. Fourth track, ‘Clean Me Clean’, for example, is awash in Miami shades as Sons of Kemet-style jazz strokes sidle up against the 80s sheen of War On Drugs’ juddering guitars.

Wilma Archer’s A Western Circular helps to join the dots. Tracks like ‘Killing Crab’ and ‘Last Sniff’ (featuring the late, great MF DOOM) introduced the luscious cello and violin arrangements that now occupy centre stage on Grotto. Take the rousing stomp of ‘One Under’, its lurching cadence elevated by cinematic strings, brass and woodwind that seem lifted from an MGM musical’s synchronised swimming number. And it’s through these bowed notes and grandiose beats that Vritra’s introspective lyrics cut through: “Everyone know that joy in pain, sunshine in rain”. His voice providing the melancholy foundations that Archer builds symphonic flushes atop.

They do veer from this script, however. An effortless finger-picked guitar gifts ‘Every Evening’ a balmy porch-ambience and album opener, ‘Find An Hour’, comes across like a live demo fleshed out with jazzy instrumentation to create a bolder, fuller sound, as if offering a glimpse into their process Then, on ‘Tunnel Vision’, Vritra’s sparky vocals juxtapose beats gloomy enough to be reminiscent of Radiohead’s contemplative ‘All I Need’.

The titular Grotto appears throughout via largely instrumental interludes on the tracks ‘Stalagmites’, ‘Stalactites’, ‘Tunnel Vision’, and a reference to the West Country cave network, ‘Wookey Hole’. But, whilst the expansive soundtrack feels like a bold development, I can’t help but wonder if Burd’s sparse, sample-based compositions were better suited to Vritra’s laid back delivery. This conflict between the styles leaves us pondering the cavern’s murk or as Vritra puts it “Pulled right into your womb, pulled right into my doom”. It’s as if we’re aboard the album cover’s cheery train weaving its way through an underground darkness, towards the light. Los Angeles is the final stop. All change please.