As befits the instrument’s rare, numinous quality, the line of well-known harpists is long yet sparse. It stretches from the mythic antiquity of Orpheus and King David, on through Turlough O’Carolan and Alice Coltrane, and into the new millennium of Joanna Newsom, who was synonymous with the harp in indie music throughout the 2000s. Mary Lattimore quietly picked up that mantle over the next decade, opening a portal between pastoral ambient improvisation and austere arrangement that is distinctly her own.
Now based in Los Angeles but originally from Asheville, Lattimore, a classically trained harpist, started building abstract cathedrals with a looping pedal on the 2013 album The Withdrawing Room. The next year, Thrill Jockey released Slant of Light, a luminous collaboration with the guitarist and synth player Jeff Zeigler. Then a Pew Fellowship grant helped Lattimore tote her large Lyon and Healy harp around California and Texas in a Volvo station wagon, recording At the Dam for Ghostly International, which also released Hundreds of Days in 2018. That album mingled guitar, theremin, piano, and Lattimore’s voice with “ambient music that is every bit as complex and meditative as the work of Pauline Oliveros and Harold Budd,” Pitchfork said.
After a pair of fine collaborations on the keenly curated North Carolina imprint Three Lobed Records—Ghost Forests with Meg Baird and New Rain Duets with Mac McCaughan in modular-synth mode—Lattimore released her best album yet in 2020: Silver Ladders, on which she worked with Slowdive’s Neil Halstead to sculpt her edifices of light and fog into more songful shapes than ever before.