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Mary Lattimore / Paul Sukeena - West Kensington Music Album Reviews

Mary Lattimore / Paul Sukeena - West Kensington Music Album Reviews
With 2020’s lockdown measures in place, the Los Angeles neighbors passed the time playing harp and guitar together. The results capture the melancholy strangeness of those days.

Memory, place, and the ways they intertwine are recurring themes in Mary Lattimore’s music. The harpist’s titles often allude to the places she holds dear, like Wawa, a mid-Atlantic convenience store chain known for its cheap hoagies. “I’ve always loved romantic melancholia in music,” she told 15 Questions, pinpointing her favorite musical qualities as “lush, deluxe with a little nostalgia and some inexplicable sadness.” On West Kensington, she teams up with guitarist Paul Sukeena to continue to explore the ways that music can bring the past to life. Spinning outward from short, looping melodies that offer ample space for reflection, their music is tinged with a dreamlike haze.

The two musicians recorded West Kensington while lockdowns in the United States were at their strictest. Sukeena and Lattimore lived next door to each other in Los Angeles, and they passed the time by making music together. Their tranquil 2020 track “Dreaming of the Kelly Pool,” whose title references a public swimming pool in Philadelphia, offered an early glimpse into their pensive style. West Kensington picks up where “Dreaming of the Kelly Pool” left off, wrapping gauzy plumes around delicately interwoven synths, harp, and electric guitar.

The duo’s most compelling tracks make the most of both brightness and darkness. “Altar of Tammy” folds deep, agitated tones into twirling layers. Twinkling harp spirals around crunchy electric guitar, building from tiny, melancholy melodies into vast undulations. “Didn’t See the Comet” similarly unites airiness and moodiness. Here, the duo weaves together spun-out drones that waver and grow, letting the natural pulse of the sound swell and dissipate.

West Kensington often sounds like a fantasy, hovering in the space between imagination and reality. At times, though, this starry-eyed style can feel sluggish, weighed down by distorted effects and repetition. Opener “Hundred Dollar Hoagie” builds from a quavering, ascending melody that repeats throughout but never quite blossoms. Instead, it sounds heavy, as if it’s stuck in place. Rather than exploring the details that made other songs feel full, they lean too much into one idea, forgoing intricacy for sameness. But with “Garage Wine,” the record’s most compelling track, Lattimore and Sukeena effortlessly bridge poignant remembrance with glimmers of hope. It’s here that the music encapsulates the broadest spectrum of feeling, from gloominess to contentedness.

More than two years since Covid-19’s arrival, the “pandemic record” has become an increasingly familiar trope. West Kensington is another addition to the bunch, but because so much of Lattimore and Sukeena’s work already dwelled upon wistful reminiscence, their contribution to the genre doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Instead, it builds on themes they’ve often explored to create music that’s both soothing and introspective. At times, the album’s balminess can feel cloying, but at its best, it captures dazzling complexity with a graceful touch. In those moments, Lattimore and Sukeena showcase the mixture of melancholy, nostalgia, and joy that keeps them pushing forward.

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Mary Lattimore / Paul Sukeena - West Kensington Music Album Reviews Mary Lattimore / Paul Sukeena - West Kensington Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, May 27, 2022 Rating: 5

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