Whatever The Weather


A new ambient project(ish) project from Loraine James is filled with roily delights and alien concoctions, finds Will Ainsley

Although the music of Loraine James – one of the hottest electronic prospects in Britain to come along in the last five years – usually evokes a basement club, the air thick with deadened kick drums and busy, chuntering percussion, her new Whatever The Weather project seems to gesture towards something cleaner and airier, though with less of a sense of place.

There’s something enjoyably knotty and awkward about this debut release. Even the song titles – various temperatures celsius – seem designed to dislocate you from any preconceptions about the music. Similarly, the beats – where present – can feel gutted, like they’re missing a vital percussive element that will link the whole groove together; this fragmentation means they seem jagged and spiny, sticking out at right angles from the skeletal ambient workouts.

On the albums James has made under her own name, For You and I and Reflection, there’s often a kitchen-sink production style that means many individual tracks seem to brim with ten, twenty, fifty ideas. However, on this album James selects two or three main sounds then runs with them, such as the interplay of piano chords and their twinkling tape delays on ‘14°’, or the gloriously incongruous cowbell on ‘4°’, or those two chords, also on ‘4°’ (an album highlight), that at first seem like they’ve been played an octave too low, but eventually persuade you of their roily delights. The bare bones arrangements make each piece feel like they’ve been cannibalised, gnawed at, so just a bleached carcass remains.

This sense of erosion, of tracks being worn down and left to decay, means that whatever instrument parts there are – the pillowy synth in ‘25°’ or the electronic bloops that ring into silence on ‘10°’ – are given care and attention, allowed to flower, flourish, be themselves. This extends to the snatches of recorded conversation on ‘17°’, or that crackling noise on ‘10°’ that almost sounds like a cable got disconnected accidentally while recording the piece. James embraces the somewhat paradoxical idea of electronic music being frayed or naturally degraded.

It is certainly electronic music, but James’s vocals, though treated and mired in layers of reverb and chorus, remain a much-needed organic counterpoint to the buttery, synthetic folds that are this album’s omphalos. The gauzy beds of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ lend a certain shoegaze-y introspection to proceedings. When James starts to sing actual lyrics in ‘30°’, it’s like being awoken from trance, so enveloped are you in the album’s aqueous embrace. These strange, simmering arrangements are rendered perfectly by James’ widescreen production style. Whatever The Weather frequently reminded me of instrumental sections in the Lost In Translation soundtrack: those dream-poppy atmospherics courtesy of Kevin Shields, Air, and Squarepusher that accompany the scenes where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, lost in a dumb, insomniac reverie, are bathed in the dawn’s milky glow while looking over Tokyo.

For most of the time, the music walks the fine line that all ambient musicians tread, between being “ignorable as it is interesting” as Brian Eno famously decreed, and being “forgettable”. Where does restraint turn into insubstantiality? Where does the fragile turn into the frail? Although ‘25°’, the first track, shares similarities with ‘36°’, the penultimate track, the former is buttressed by hints of simmering vocals and chiming bell-like synths; these tiny details completely refigure the arrangement. Although I like that James moves in the edgelands between demo and song, idea and piece, ‘36°’ felt a step too far in the wrong direction. Despite this slightly bathetic penultimate track, however, Whatever The Weather is an excellent, and at times thrilling, exposition of a particular side of James’ music-making, a strange and alien concoction that reels you into its jellied depths.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today