Waking up in your hotel room overlooking a narrow bay, the gleaming afternoon sun ricocheting in infinite golden reflections, finally over the jet lag, the salty Adriatic breeze buffeting your hair and skin, the smell of the sea and coffee waft into your senses. The clink of glasses and the murmur of the hotel bar reach your ears, along with seagulls and the distant thrum of patrons splashing in the pool. After a few moments, you’re fully awake and the memory of what’s about to happen to this magical place returns. Your last stay at the famous Hotel Arkada, jewel of the Adriatic, as it is remembered by so many. The next time you come, it will be a different hotel altogether as the planned renovations take shape. One can only imagine the memories created in such a place, the richness of the lives lived within its walls. A fitting subject for a soundtrack of sorts, and the subject of the new album by harpist Mary Lattimore - Goodbye, Hotel Arkada.
Curiously, harpists are having a prolonged pop zeitgeist moment courtesy of artists like Ms. Lattimore and her contemporaries including Joanna Newsome, Brandee Younger, Nala Sinephro, Rhodri Davies, and guitar pedal phenom Emily Hopkins (aka Emily Harpist). On one hand, we shouldn’t be surprised - adventurous music seekers have long championed Alice Coltrane and Dorothy Ashby; it appears inevitable that these pioneering women would inspire a new generation to take up the instrument. Still, this new moment seems larger than what’s come before, with a plethora of successful harpists in popular music running the gamut of styles - Alternative, Ambient, Classical, Folk, Jazz, and beyond. With the current roster of harpists updating how the instrument is used - running through modular synths, guitar pedals, and other effects - we might just see the harp as a mainstay of modern music for years to come.
Lattimore scored an illustrious guest list including Meg Baird, Lol Tolhurst (The Cure), and Rachel Goswell (Slowdive), among long-term and other collaborators like Roy Montgomery, Walt McClements, and Samara Lubelski - evidence of both Lattimore’s ascendancy and the widening acceptance of the harp as the central instrument.
On the opening track, “And Then He Wrapped His Wings Around Me”, glimmering harp arpeggios cascade into a dreamlike cocoon of lush vocal reverb atop a sorrowful murmur. Walt McClements’ accordion drones provide a sort of sad Paris café (or maybe a sad Zagreb café) launch pad for Lattimore’s harp and subdued vocals courtesy of Meg Baird. While both guests elevate the arrangement, this is clearly Lattimore’s show.
Lol Tolhurst’s (of The Cure) synths blend seamlessly with Lattimore on the pulsating, bittersweet “Arrivederci”. Lattimore and Tolhurst seem intent on their world building with this piece’s lyrical melodies and nostalgic vibes - a true lament for how things were.
“Blender in a Blender” fades in with a melancholy twinkle developing into a Neo-classical escapade, until collapsing in a goth-fest guitar coda from collaborator Roy Montgomery. The circular melodies conjure a sort of dystopian vision - as the album is a lament for the dissolution of a beloved historical landmark, this track moves through two stages of grief - sadness and anger.
Synth pads and seasick chorused guitars underpin “Music for Applying Shimmering Eye Shadow”, creating a glittery atmospheric chill track - one imagines dressing room anxiety quelled before a big stage entrance, or prepping for a fancy dinner on the seaside terrace restaurant, a warm breeze billowing the hotel curtains, the failing afternoon light sparkling and golden, reflecting from the sea.
Released as a single, the rhythmic whirls on “Horses, Glossy on the Hills” showcase how contemporary artists like Lattimore are reinventing the harp’s place in popular music. Spectral string plucks, percussive woody taps, and cinematic pads give way to a near frenzied roulade soundscape, resonant synth melodies, and a familiar, yet unique devolution of glitchy, reverse harp.
The amazingly sublime “Yesterday’s Parties” features Rachel Goswell and Samara Lubelski lending characteristically dreamy vocal effervescence. A fitting album closer full of emotionally charged moments, the refined composition showcases Lattimore’s songwriting prowess. While the harp is a charged improvisational tool, Lattimore and company exhibit tremendous restraint to foment a clear musical direction from the gentle intro through to the ghostly climax.
Take a break from the everyday and visit a jewel of the Adriatic Sea with Mary Lattimore’s Goodbye, Hotel Arkada. Who knows, maybe by the time you get there, the renovations will be complete and something new and equally wonderful will have taken its place.