Mary Lattimore and Walt McClements – Rain on the Road (Thrill Jockey, 2024)

The Spring grasses are long in tooth now, the undergrowth green and wild after all this year’s rain and before the first big cuts by the council come to mow them back to compliance. Our garden is filled with tall swaying dandelions and leafy sycamore saplings round the edge that grow bolder every year in the shadow of their parents a few gardens over, and the neighbour’s laburnum drips butter-gold stalactites of flowers from its frame.

It’s been a long road to June this year for so many reasons, and though the spectre of Winter still seems to cling to England with a dampness and greyness we can’t seem to shake, life still finds its predictable patterns, assurances that the seasons are surely changing and we’re tilting ever closer to solstice. It can be hard to remember that sometimes, but with a searching glance out the window or perhaps in the pause to put on shorts and a t-shirt rather than something heavier, suddenly we can see the warmth and lightness again and try to ignore its transience.

Sometimes I have these phases where I look around and can’t seem to be risen to new music, to find the excitement and enchantment and resonance from the unknown and unheard. And of course, out of nowhere, there’s that moment of startling clarity like staring out the office window and seeing all the new greenery, and Rain on the Road comes along.

At the heart of this revelation for me is “The Poppies, the Wild Mustard, the Blue-Eyed Grass”, a vision of softly looping harp chords and longer sustains that dance round one another in a complex tapestry woven before our eyes. In one instant  tilting towards plaintive melancholia, wistful and longing: the next, filled with glimmering texture as wind through the laden grasses, shaking their petals and fruits in laden vigour.

These dizzying overtures don’t set the mood or even aesthetic for the entire record though: opener “Stolen Bells” tolls ominously as it opens the gates to our trip into pastoral charm, suddenly exploding into a shattered mobile of glinting fractal instrumentation as the canopy overhead shuffles patterns of sunlight across the asphalt. Equally elongate interior “We Waited for the Bears to Leave” heaves and hos in playful crescendo as the harp plays tug of war against the accordion, each waging a battle of wills and wits against the other vying for space. Slowly it cedes its conflict and dissolves into more consistently lighter strings, leaving only a quirky echo of a moment behind in its wake.

Penultimate “Nest of Earrings” seems set to some inescapable rhythm as it ticks along metronomically, its harp scurrying along hardly able to keep up with the zest of life as energy flows into and out of Spring and Summer. And although the closing “The Top of Thomas Street” may make it seem like these same energies are depleted and that there’s a sadness creeping in around the edges as plaintive piano comes to croon over the death of another zenith, but to me it feels more akin to watching the twilight arrive to blanket the city, transform it into something new, some other time.

I love this time of year for its activity, for the music it seems to bring forth and the feeling it stirs up in me, reminding me of the generosity and electricity in life and sound. And I love this record for its surprise entry to me – the same way that Spring seems to creep up and make it self known all of a sudden – as well as its gentility, its cradling and nurturing atmospheres that don’t just bask and wallow in the new-life around them but also move with them, be a part of them. It’s difficult not to evaporate listening to this.