Anna-Lynne Williams has made some of the most soft-spoken and supremely gentle slowcore of the modern era, both as part of Trespassers William and alone under the alias of Lotte Kestner. Now, she joins forces with Robert Gomez for 'Cartographer/Explorer', another twilit record in which their vocals are constantly conjoined against a dramatic backdrop of twinkling guitars, firm beats and ominous electronics.
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- Cartographer / Explorer by Ormonde
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Anna-Lynne Williams has tread a narrow path. Like a host of folk artists before and after her, she has languished and toiled without as much as a hint of making a change. Think Jason Molina playing his slow-mo ballads or the Mountain Goats on the excruciatingly homogenous ‘Get Lonely’, and you’ll know what kind of songwriter Williams is: steady, poised and stubborn, she works at her own pace and hopes you’ll wait up. Her work in slowcore act Trespassers William demanded silence and patience, poised in a dream pop style that never erupted but instead circled back to damning motifs and small moments. Under her alias Lottle Kestner, she makes modest folk songs that focus on her quiet, crumbling voice; she rarely, if ever, modulates the architecture around her, because why set a different scene for the same emotions? Part of the charm of Williams’ work is its steadfastness: fans of her work know exactly how fast their heartbeat’s going to be regulated. Sadness can be reassuring.
‘Cartographer / Explorer’ is different. The first work stylised under the alias Ormonde -- a name given to the more democratic collaborations of Williams and recording partner Robert Gomez -- is a mix of his whispered slowcore and electronic experiments, subjugated by Williams’ own startling guitar picking. It’s the first record to shake off the insular, homeward bound vibe of Williams’ work, instead coming across like an awkward, quiet conversation between two people looking at each other across the room. The title track suggests the significance of two voices, not one -- “You can be cartographer / I can be explorer”. Fittingly, it’s the first place on the record their voices meet, signalling the typically patient intent of Williams -- they conjoin when the moment is right, Williams suddenly taking over from Gomez intensely quiet hum. The shared harmonies of “Threshold” are strangely distanced; hearing these two voices replete and replace one other is a startling feat, considering that they both sound lonely and disconnected, the same way Molina and singing partner Jennie Benford always sounded like they were singing alone, together.
Of course, it goes without saying that this shit is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Some things never change. Williams’ work always sounds like the soundtrack to the moment just after a thick fog has cleared; it crackles with that feeling of coldness and re-emergence, the percussion soft and wispy, the guitars clear and celestial, the occasional programmed beats as pure a representation of the natural landscape as Boards of Canada’s are on ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’. ‘Cartographer / Explorer’ is always reminding you of what you’ve left behind from the front seat; one voice remains up front at all time, while the other seems to harmonise from way back down the motorway. On the gorgeous “Strange Wind”, Gomez whispers in your ear with the assurance of Low’s Alan Sparhawk, sliding his guitar into the crawl space between your ears -- but Williams voice stays back, her harmonies existing in small, torrential fragments.
It’s nice to have the suppressed drama of Trespassers William back with ‘Cartographer / Explorer’; it’s hard for Williams to exact this feeling of expanse on one of her solo records, but Gomez helps create more space for her, offering a whole panorama of synths and guitars to capture, as well as striking, detailed production for the heartbreak to echo out from. The guitars twinkle with as much sacred grandiosity as Explosions In The Sky, at times, but with Williams and Gomez’s words, ‘Cartographer / Explorer’ becomes more than just pretty: it’s a romantically elliptical record, sounding lost and delusional but tragically sincere. This record was never going to be anything but beautiful, but it’s also a nice surprise: it’s enthralling, too.
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