Memory, place and how they intertwine are recurring themes in Mary Lattimore’s music. The harpist’s titles often allude to places close to her heart, like Wawa, a mid-Atlantic convenience store chain known for its inexpensive hoagies. “I’ve always loved the romantic melancholy in music,” she said 15 Questions, identifying his favorite musical qualities as “lush, luxurious with a bit of nostalgia and inexplicable sadness”. On West Kensington, she teams up with guitarist Paul Sukeena to continue exploring the ways music can bring the past to life. Spinning outward from short, looping melodies that provide ample room for reflection, their music is tinged with a dreamlike haze.
The two musicians recorded West Kensington while lockdowns in the United States were the strictest. Sukeena and Lattimore lived next door to each other in Los Angeles, and they passed the time making music together. Their quiet 2020 track “Dreaming of the Kelly Pool,” the title of which refers to a public swimming pool in Philadelphia, offered a first glimpse of their pensive style. West Kensington picks up where “Dreaming of the Kelly Pool” left off, wrapping wispy plumes around delicately interwoven synths, harp and electric guitar.
The duo’s most compelling tracks make the most of light and dark. “Altar of Tammy” bends deep, choppy tones into swirling layers. A shimmering harp spins around a crisp electric guitar, moving from tiny melancholic melodies to vast ripples. “Did not see the comet” similarly unites lightness and bad humor. Here, the duo weaves together spun drones that wobble and grow, letting the natural pulse of sound swell and dissipate.
West Kensington often sounds like a fantasy, hovering in the space between imagination and reality. Sometimes, however, this starry-eyed style can feel slow, weighed down by distorted effects and repetitions. Opener “Hundred Dollar Hoagie” builds from a quavering, rising melody that repeats throughout but never quite blossoms. Instead, it sounds heavy, like it’s stuck in place. Rather than exploring the details that made other songs feel full, they lean too heavily on a single idea, forgoing complexity for similarity. But with “Garage Wine,” the most compelling track on the record, Lattimore and Sukeena effortlessly connect poignant memory with glimmers of hope. It is here that the music encapsulates the widest range of feelings, from sadness to contentment.
More than two years after Covid-19 arrived, the “pandemic record” has become an increasingly familiar trope. West Kensington is another addition to the group, but since much of Lattimore and Sukeena’s work was already based on melancholy memories, their contribution to the genre doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Instead, it draws on themes they’ve often explored to create music that’s both soothing and introspective. At times, the album’s sweetness can seem sickening, but at best it captures a dazzling complexity with a graceful touch. In these moments, Lattimore and Sukeena exhibit the mix of melancholy, longing, and joy that keeps them going.
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