Mary Lattimore: The Withdrawing Room
Desire Path Recordings

The Withdrawing Room spreads three pieces by harpist Mary Lattimore across two sides of black vinyl (available in 300 copies), though in this case, surprisingly enough, it's the dominant B-side piece that is the more satisfying. Although Lattimore (credited with playing a Lyon & Healy Style 30 harp and Line 6 looper on her debut release) has made a name for herself for playing with artists such as Thurston Moore and Kurt Vile, The Withdrawing Room is largely a solo project, the exception being the opening piece, which includes Korg Mono/Poly contributions from Jeff Zeigler.

Though his electronic interventions add dramatic and wide-ranging colour to the A-side's “You'll Be Fiiinnne,” they also displace the listener's focus away from the sparkling, wave-like clusters Lattimore generates with her looping device. Having said that, there's no disputing the fact that “You'll Be Fiiinnne” presents an arrestingly original sound-world that, if anything, grows ever more unusual as it progresses through its twenty-four minutes. Fast-forward ten minutes into the journey and you'll hear the harp patterns receding into the background and the front-line inhabited by all manner of woodland spirits and goblins; jump ahead three more minutes and you're in the middle of a churning industrial factory where warbly, sci-fi electronics wage war with violent harp plucks.

The album's other long setting, “Pluto the Planet,” is more satisfying for subtly embellishing her solo playing with electronic treatments. Often assuming a liquidy quality, the harp notes in this case bleed off to form woozy glissandos, an effect that lends the material a hazy, dream-like quality. In fact, the generally slow and stately “Pluto the Planet” often sounds as if it could be Eno inhabiting the producer's chair, with the re-shaping of the harp's playing often calling to mind the quieter sequences on the Fripp-Eno collaborations No Pussyfooting and Evening Star. Somewhat like a microcosm of the album as a whole, the two-minute closer, “Poor Daniel,” juxtaposes melodic harp patterns and chaotic treatments, with neither one the obvious victor.

It's telling that The Withdrawing Room is at its most satisfying when Lattimore's resplendent playing is presented in its its purest form. Nevertheless, the material is as far removed from anything remotely harp-like as could be imagined, so Lattimore certainly earns points for boldly going where no harpist has gone before.

April 2013