Rating: 3.5/5The closest comparable experience I’ve had in the past to listening to the new Windy & Carl record is discovering the works of minimalist composer Steve Reich in college. In Reich’s early pieces, short, simple melodic patterns are repeated for long stretches with only slight shifts in rhythm and texture. On paper, the music seems pretentious and boring. In execution, it’s often mesmerizing. Such is the case with We Will Always Be.
Michigan-based Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren, partners in music and in “real life,” have been recording dreamy, ambient pieces since 1992. After all this time together, their art hasn’t rusted under the tyranny of long-term expectations. We Will Always Be sounds fresh, like the work of an optimistic duo still surprised by the world around them, not of veterans hardened by the scorns of time. Their latest effort was originally conceived as a solo work by Carl. Windy jumped in somewhat at the last minute, contributing haunting vocals to four tracks. The lyrics are notably indecipherable, so Windy’s presence is more subconsciously felt than explicitly noted.
Windy & Carl have never been a “tunes” band. Indeed, all of the tracks kind of melt together into one unified suite. The most remarkable thing about We Will Always Be, given its abstract, impressionistic nature, is how accessible it is. Listening to the record is more like a gentle swim down a serene river than an arduous journey through rough waters. I am admittedly not a connoisseur of ambient music, yet found enough emotional and intellectual connections to keep me engaged.
The album’s abstract features work mostly for it, not against it. The ambiguity in sound, mood and lyrical content afford the record that rare quality of being all things to all people. With each new experience listening to We Will Always Be, I brought a completely different mindset. Whether I was depressed while grading my student’s mediocre writing, celebrating the end of a long week with friends or driving nervously through a Midwestern snowstorm, the music seemed to inform and reflect each occasion. It’s also telling that the record has held up to the most recent, more critical, listen, where I have given undivided attention to Windy & Carl’s guitar-synth dreamscapes.
Oddly, I suppose the album’s principal strength is also its primary weakness. As a listener, it’s rewarding sometimes to fill in the emotional blanks left by the artist. Because the music doesn’t insist upon, or even come close to suggesting, a specific meaning, I am free to have whatever experience I want. However, part of me can’t help but wish, as I often do with ambient music in general, that the artist would boss me around more, would close the window of interpretation ever so slightly. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy wallowing in the rhythmically amorphous chord progression of “Remember” or the dissonant white noise of “The Frost in Winter.” We Will Always Be could easily get buried somewhere in the dark depths of my record collection, but it’s good to know that it will be there when I need to get pleasurably lost.