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Windy & Carl, "I Walked Alone/At Night"

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cover imageA little more than 20 years ago, in the fall of 1993, Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren started the Blue Flea label together in order to release their first record. Pressed to black wax, or purple if you were very lucky, the Watersong/Dragonfly 7” was presented in a simple green sleeve with a picture of a tree on one side and, on the other, the image of three broad maple leaves. Last year, for Record Store Day 2013, Windy and Carl inaugurated their 20th anniversary celebrations with the release of a cassette documenting their 2009 performance at the Solar Culture Gallery in Tucson, Arizona, a single night on what they claim was their last ever tour. Then, in December, they reunited with Dominic Martin, who put out the Emerald 7” on Enraptured in 1995, and released the Calliope/Carnivale single. The cassette caught Windy and Carl somewhere between We Will Always Be and Songs for the Broken Hearted mode, but the 45 was a glance over their shoulders, with a surprise percussion-injected twist tucked away on the B-side. Pressed to red vinyl (the orange vinyl edition sold out in a flash) and adorned in bright, hand painted sleeves that resemble fossilized leaves, I Walked Alone/At Night concludes the celebratory trilogy with a pair of reflective beauties, cool and crystalline from a distance, but red hot at their core. It is a fiery return to that green-sleeved single from 1993, reinforced and refreshed by Windy’s new-found inspiration, Carl’s seemingly effortless playing, and 20 years of hard work.

Blue Flea

Windy and Carl’s last two full-length albums saw them become an entirely new band. They’d never been as rock ‘n’ roll as the space-rock label suggested, but in the seven years between 2001’s Consciousness and 2008’s Songs for the Broken Hearted they had left the earthy orbit of their more song-based material behind entirely. By 2012’s We Will Always Be, they had tumbled through empty space and sailed straight into the sun, where Windy’s vocals turned to liquid heat and Carl’s weighty drones became streams of white hot light. The songs melted away, the bodies burned away, and all that was left was their sound: Windy and Carl. Think of it as one name, without the conjunction or the spaces.

The Solar Culture Gallery cassette, recorded in 2009, was a snapshot of what that transformation had looked like on the road, and an indication of how Songs for the Broken Hearted had become We Will Always Be, both musically and privately. Calliope/Carnivale, which came eight months later, looked like a “from the vault” release too, until you got to the B-side. On “Calliope,” Windy sang wordlessly over Carl’s strummed guitars. They laid a droning bit in there, probably drawn from an E-bow, but the melody was carried on the low strings, undistorted and completely discrete. It could have been a Drawing of Sound B-side, or a sketch from the same sessions, had it turned up on the Introspection set. It was ethereal, but nothing like their later, more abstract work.

On the other hand, there wasn’t a single guitar on “Carnivale,” at least not for a solid two and half minutes. It was all tambourine and bells, or xylophone, and Windy sang clear as day over the top, without anything there to obscure her words. Happily, on the other side of We Will Always Be, things sounded light-hearted and experimental.

“I Walked Alone” keeps that playful feeling up, but dresses it in murkier, more meditative attire. Windy’s vocals are front and center again, but they move in and out of the music more fluidly, some phrases disappearing into the haze of Carl’s circular melodies, others cresting just long enough to hear her sing lines like “time waits for no one” and “so begins the march toward becoming dust.” The sound is melancholy, but not despairing, with the low strings again pushing the song forward and giving it a hopeful, yearning inflection.

The rest of Carl’s string work is a play of light and dark. His guitars shift and rock against each other, emanating bright clouds of melody and obscure, misty tone clusters. It recalls “Watersong’s” echo-drenched sound, but with twice the deliberation. Carl’s arrangements are tighter and more intricately woven, building tension and releasing it one hypnotic wave at a time.

Refracted chords and sharp angles dance all over “At Night,” and Windy meets them with deep, almost chanted poetry. The particulars are hard to catch, but one line is certain: “I never knew what it meant to hear your voice at night.” Carl’s playing rotates around those words like a mass of glassy, twinkling ice so delicate it might shatter. It never does, though. The whirl of words and flickering lights continues trance-like until it comes to a calm, glowing conclusion. The guitars might sound fragile, but the words and the mood are warm; they shine through the dusky atmosphere of the song the way embers shine through ash.

As much as these songs recall Windy and Carl’s beginnings, they point in a new direction too. Carl has a solo record on the way and his choices indicate what he might be up to in the near future. It also suggests that Windy and Carl have a lot more to say as a duo. When you come to a fork in the road and things seem uncertain, looking backwards can sometimes be the best way to move forwards.

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Last Updated on Monday, 14 April 2014 09:29  


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