“Gossamer” is the word I was looking for. As in, “this new Windy & Carl album is nothing if not gossamer.” It wants to drift away, but it’s almost shockingly pretty. And like those tenuous spiderwebs we see on public access nature shows, it’s remarkably resilient, even as it hovers on the edge of perceptibility. Constantly evasive, We Will Always Be opens with the most direct folk song of their expansive and largely drone-laden career, but within a few seconds, you’ve lost track of the words — they’re there, but that whirring thing in the background seems kind of pretty. What is it exactly? Oh, song’s over.
We Will Always Be drifts off to ambient realms for a bit, hinting at the sort of deeply resonant drones of early albums such as Antarctica and the delicately solemn abscesses of their recent Songs for the Broken Hearted, but center keeps slipping away. It’s as if it were a noise album with the noise removed, abrupt cuts replaced by a pleasant sense of dislocation, never overly discomfiting. Every element is achingly emotional, from twinkling guitar runs to blurred strummed washes to watery bass, but it rarely coheres into a functional dramatic structure. Vocal coos arrive, suggesting we might soon arrive at progression, but then disappear, only to reappear for unclear reason. It’s never as moving as it suggests it might be, but this is not at all an unpleasant feeling. It’s a pleasant stasis.
The album verges on nothingness while never making the encounter with nothingness into a statement as, say, Richard Chartier might. It just effaces itself quietly and to the fullest extent, and then attempts to efface its own self-effacing capacity. See, there I go. I can’t help but use phrases like “the fullest extent,” but superlatives don’t seem quite apt for this album, as they suggest an artistic statement. But the album doesn’t want them. It functions almost entirely in the murky space between superlative poles. My earlier statements about how “gossamer” this whole thing is aren’t really fair, admittedly.
As We Will Always Be progresses, we move to more and more solid drones — repetitions more clearly marked, bass frequencies fuller and more sustained. We should probably identify this as a “progression” or a “development,” as much as I wanted this album to eschew any sense of progression. My musings about floating gossamer musical threads were yet another example of how I want this album to fit into some sort of theoretical framework, even if that framework is necessarily a de-centered one, or at least one where we keep losing sight of the center. But then again, what’s more evasive than stating clearly that nothing resembling a progression will be involved and then bringing it in anyway? By the time we reach “Fainting In the Presence of the Lord,” we’ve hit a fully structured, clear, and deeply emotional drone. It’s lovely.
It’s pretty clear that Windy & Carl, at this point in their career, aren’t aiming to make the sort of grand stylistic or theoretical statements that we find in Stars of the Lid, William Basinski, Fennesz (his Plays, in particular), or any of the other drone “greats” Windy & Carl are often spoken of alongside. In a way, this decision to stay away from any sort of clear statement seems like it’s in some ways the fulfillment of ambient music’s mantra. Of course, fulfilling a mantra is nothing if not making an aesthetic statement, so that’s also not the best way to approach We Will Always Be.
A three out of five is the least judgmental rating a critic can give. It’s not so negative as to attract attention as a “bash” or as a statement of artistic failure, but it’s not so positive as to warrant undue attention. We Will Always Be rewards your attention, but only so far. Such an analysis shouldn’t be taken as faint praise, but then again, maybe it’s best if it is?