Home Music Mary Lattimore: Silver Ladders

Mary Lattimore: Silver Ladders

Classically trained harpist Mary Lattimore seems to always be up for a challenge, and on her new album, Silver Ladders the challenge involved working with Slowdive’s Neil Halstead. Recording with Halstead, whom she met at a festival and developed a quick collaborative rapport, was a new experience. Lattimore’s own LPs tend to be solo affairs with the artist in charge of all the recording and production. Halstead, for his part, had never recorded with a harp before, so both artists faced new ways of doing things, and it was a fruitful musical union.

From his home in Newquay on Cornwall’s northern coast, Halstead and Lattimore spent nine days recording Silver Ladders. Creating moods and memories in the most surprising ways, the album challenges listeners to re-evaluate what the harp can do. Halstead finds ways to incorporate elements that are a long way from a classical context.

The proceedings begin gently with “Pine Trees,” which that drifts along like a late summer breeze. With piano embellishments, the harp establishes a mood similar to much of her solo work. Burbling along pleasantly, it’s the kind of song that wouldn’t have been out of place on Hundreds of Days. The formula begins to shift a bit on “Silver Ladders,” where Halstead’s guitar offers a droning backdrop for Lattimore to play against. A sense of melancholy pervades as the guitar rumbles.

Working with vaguely oriental overtones, “Til A Mermaid Drags You Under” creates a sound initially dominated by Halstead’s booming bass. This is uncharted territory, hypnotic and completely unexpected. Over the course of 11-minutes the duo examine a world underwater. Even that harp seems to be heavily treated, developing an otherworldly vibe.

The harp has always been an instrument that seems to be from another time and place, which is definitely the case on “Sometimes He’s in My Dreams.” A mix of harp and guitar with another oversized bass line, it treads a subtle line, with Lattimore’s harp taking the high end and Halstead filling in with guitar phrases.

Using a title derived from an airline pilot’s post-takeoff speech, “Chop on the Climbout” allows us to float along on a wave of Lattimore’s delicate strings as we emerge from clouds to drift through the air. This leads to a shift in focus as Halstead’s guitar takes over until the summit. Examining the relationship between forces, Lattimore’s harp establishes celestial tones while Halstead offers more ominous timbres on bass and piano. Finally, we end in a field of “Thirty Tulips.” The ethereal quality of the harp is matched with the impressionistic undertow of Halstead’s synth, which inspires Lattimore to play on muted strings that develop something more percussive.

Lattimore has worked with indie musicians like Thurston Moore and Steve Gunn before, and her collaboration with Holy Hive is an exceptional combination of her harp in an electric, shoegazey context. More of a duo record than a Lattimore recording, Silver Ladders offers a dialogue that goes on exploring elements and emotions. With this collection the challenge is in allowing the music to develop and grow. While it may be a remembrance of things past, Mary Lattimore’s latest asks you to look at her world from a different lens, one rooted in exploration.

Creating new worlds to conquer--with Neil Halstead’s help.
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Blending Harp and electronics
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