Listening to a Mary Lattimore album is like flipping through a scrapbook full of yellowing photographs. For the Los Angeles-based harpist, no moment is too trivial to capture in music: the lone deer she saw in the woods during a residency stay, the Wawa from a road trip. On albums like 2017’s Collected Pieces and 2020’s Silver Ladders she codified her style, transforming stories from her travels into wistful odes meant to evoke the feeling of a resurfaced memory. With Goodbye, Hotel Arkada, she invites an array of collaborators to help craft pensive songs that grow out of moments past. While her instrument’s luminous tone remains the music’s defining characteristic, she embraces a darker mood than before.
Goodbye, Hotel Arkada takes its name from a formerly grand hotel on the Croatian island of Hvar where Lattimore once roamed the empty hallways, imagining the majesty of its glory days. She later learned from a friend that the place had been gutted and modernized, and the news prompted this album-length tribute to faded grace. Not all her inspirations are as somber as her often stately music might suggest, however: “And Then He Wrapped His Wings Around Me” was inspired by a childhood encounter with an actor in a life-sized Big Bird costume, while “Music for Applying Shimmering Eye Shadow,” which she wrote as pre-show music for green-room rituals, grew out of an investigation in the theoretical sound of space.
Despite the range of her inspirations, Lattimore’s music is uniformly moody and slightly ambiguous. She plays at a leisurely pace and cloaks each pluck in reverb, giving the feeling that her music is floating. Her melodies often favor the high, twinkling pitches of her instrument; they sway rather than leap, transmitting a feeling of reverence. And as they repeat, they expand, crescendoing with each reiteration. On “Arrivederci,” which Lattimore wrote after being fired from a gig, former Cure keyboardist Lol Tolhurst’s synths add murkiness, bass notes swelling underneath Lattimore’s slow lament. The lilting phrases of closer “Yesterday’s Parties” feel dreamy at first, but as the song grows, Samara Lubelski’s flickering violin riffs cut across airy vocals from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, stirring a little bit of chaos into the soothing lullaby.
Yet even in moments where a melody becomes turbulent, Lattimore’s compositions can feel relentlessly pretty. Her music avoids disorder; she carefully weaves sweet passages together and always ends with an upbeat tone. But with “Blender in a Blender,” Lattimore allows for some frayed edges. When writing the track, she recalled a conversation in which she and a friend wondered what sorts of physical objects could be put in a blender. Glow sticks, iPhones; could even a blender be blended? Her harp feels its featheriest here, soaring above Roy Montgomery’s hazy guitar. But then, after a moment of silence, Montgomery’s guitar returns with force, churning in a distorted blur. It’s a refreshing reminder that despite her music’s nostalgic cast, it doesn’t have to be bogged down by it. It can make room for humor, too.
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