The self-titled LP from Whatever The Weather — the ambient-minded alias of Loraine James — is a beautiful, slippery, jittery affair, writes Ian Preece.
Truth be told, even though the age bracket and opening hours suit, I’ve got no real desire to attend Annie Mac’s communal rave-a-thon for the over-45s. That’s not to say I haven’t loved the dancefloor in days gone by — the thrill and the rush of the Garage in Nottingham in the 1980s: a packed upstairs room hopping to Run-DMC; the Velvet Underground spinning in the basement; standing outside a disused warehouse in Cardiff docks at daybreak, wondering where the bus back to the city centre is; hanging out in smoky corners of the Blue Note in Hoxton Square, or the Gardening Club drum & bass nights under the Piazza in Covent Garden. A decade on from there, I remember DJing at the kids’ school fête, everyone sitting around in a small east London field boxed in by houses, across the road from the primary school, eating curry, drinking beer, playing football and generally chilling as the tea urn steamed and the sun slowly set on a beautiful June afternoon/evening while I couldn’t stop playing wistful tracks from a new album by this anonymous guy called Burial. Music travels with you through life, refracting and reflecting all those lived experiences. These days I’m closer to the retirement bungalow than I am the dancefloor or the otherworldy clarity of the nightbus home; more Brian Eno or Don Cherry on ECM than Gqom, drill or footwork. Much better to let a record like Loraine James’s new Whatever The Weather moniker/eponymous LP bring it all back.
Under her own name, James’s usual incarnation is as a purveyor of skittery, stutteringly busy beats, metallic basslines and the sometime flows of guest mcs and vocalists, on the Hyperbub label — what Boomkat adroitly describe as ‘wonked bangers’. But the north Londoner from the tower blocks of the Alma Estate in Ponders End, Enfield, has just released a more ambient, experimental LP of whorls and curls of melodies; fragments, slivers and shivers of reflective, shiny beats and pools of ambient sound. It’s a beautiful, slippery, jittery affair, but full of the hope/joy/sadness trapped in the grooves of ancient antecedents like A Guy Called Gerald’s ‘Finley’s Rainbow’, Jacob’s Optical Stairway/4 Hero and, of course, the bard of the 4 a.m. kebab/nightbus/sodium lamp-lit arterial route home, Burial himself.
What I really love about the album is that the tracks don’t really go anywhere. They circle a motif, there might be some background ambience and clatter building, and then they circle back again. But it’s all high-grade melodically listenable stuff — not ‘experimental’ as in, say, Phill Niblock experimental. If the bottomless ocean and endlessly repeating motifs of dub or jazz is even mildly your thing, you’ll dig this too.
All the tracks are numbered by temperature: there’s the high-floating cirrus and twinkling galaxies of opener ‘25°c’; the slightly smeared, smudged knocking bassline of the approaching occluded front ‘0°c’; the washed-out euphoria of a rave anthem at the opening of ‘6°c’; the rippling piano of ‘14°c’ that brings to mind a wan echo of Omni Trio and Robert Haigh’s solo records — but even with a copy of Alan Watt’s 1968 bible Instant Weather Forecasting at my side it’s hard to align a room temperature or cloud formation with the fluctuating emotional barometer of the whole record. The clubby/chill-out lounge vibe perhaps gets stronger the further into the record you travel (and just occasionally things get a bit too stutteringly fidgety — ‘10°c’ — for an old 20th century head like me); but then you end up back in a beautiful ambient place with the descending, elegiac synth lines of ‘36°c’ — turfed out into the fresh morning, as the sun rises and the street cleaners hose down Ridley Road market and dustbin lorries with flashing lights perform some kind of choreographed street dance.
‘Whatever The Weather’ is out now on Ghostly International.