“Ethereal Rock?!”, I hear you exclaim. Oh aye. Look, just stick with me on this. The U2-esque jangling chords of Celtic Rock – check; the delicate, swirling atmospheres of Ambient Drone – check; the drifting, gossamer beauty of the heavenly hereafter – check. See? Told you. Michigan duo Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren, purely known as Windy and Carl, have been quietly growing this subtle monster for two decades and latest album Allegiance and Conviction (Kranky Records), written and composed over six years, musters all of the above criteria in a realm of sinister grace.
The album commences with an eerie form of beauty: Windy’s honeyed, Joni Mitchell-like voice intoning a strange melody over the expanding swell of ‘The Stranger’, that ambience throbbing with reverberating tension as the chords tinkle increasingly around it. The haunting nature is so affecting that you won’t notice the tears running down your face or the involuntary twitching of your muscles, due to complete absorption. The ensuing ‘Recon’ exudes more of an Americana feel yet maintains a humming undercurrent, tinkling strings having their playful way with the brain and seeming to create three tunes in one, the unification a joy to experience even as that music pervades with a heart-rending melancholy.
Aficionados of the pair’s wondrous creations won’t be surprised by the mesmerising capacity of this opening but will share the beginners’ awe at the jaw-dropping emotion of it all. ‘Moth To The Flame’ eases in with Hultgren’s layered, flickering guitar, evincing the pattering of raindrops in summer as well as the perfect aural depiction of the track’s title: while Weber’s gently-whispered tones and the atmospheric airs are like a guided meditation through the stars. ‘Alone’ has a more stark quality thanks to the ‘freezer burn’ effect of the synth, with the piercing thrum and howl of the second movement an unsettling embodiment of the feeling of loneliness. Despite this, Weber’s vocal depth still manages to reach into the soul.
‘Will I See The Dawn’ returns to that natural beauty, field recordings manufacturing a soothing aura alongside the occasional input of a Fender Rhodes and sparing, delicious piano keys. Together with a more judicious inclusion of lead and bass strings, the whole is a wonderfully immersive event, like a walk through rain-soaked woods, the listener bathing in the surrounding splendour and fragility of it all. Closer ‘Crossing Over’ sees more of that fizzing bass, while Hultgren’s shimmering jingle is a constant underpin to Weber’s soliloquy, an almost panic-stricken run to safety yet delivered so serenely that it’s hard to feel any urgency: just a deep affinity with it, and with each subsequent deeply-strummed chord, every note, and the ensuing silence.
This is just staggering. One might trivialise it as mood music; an uplifting expression of sadness; the chance to bond with a tree. Whatever. The life, the utter humanity, the depth of feeling that courses through Allegiance and Conviction makes it a transcendent journey, and something that everyone needs to experience.
9 / 10