Lotte Kestner - China Mountain
By: Angie Mack
I missed this album the first time around (2008). Timing is a funny thing, for as much time as there actually is, it has an uncanny knack for being extremely precise. Had I come across this album two years ago, there’s a fair chance it wouldn’t have resonated as much as it does now; so, I use the word ‘missed’ quite on purpose as it seems the re-release of China Mountain was timed to show exactly what my Australian winter has been lacking.
Lotte Kestner, the solo project of Anna-Lynne Williams, delivers a down-tempo folk album that is both reminiscent of her work as singer-songwriter with Trespassers William, and distinct enough so as not to be derivative. Anna-Lynne’s moderately hushed and dreamy vocals also give some welcome warmth and depth to the delicate, gently moving songs. Much like Mazzy Star-era Hope Sandoval, the emotion is largely in the words themselves, and they unravel in a similarly haunting fashion.
What sets this apart the most is a wonderfully near-fragile sense of the whimsical, which is as earthy as it is light. It’s like the Little Match Girl instead sold all of her matches and bought a guitar. Now grown up, she no longer finds solace in striking a match for the momentary flare and longing so intently as to create vivid imagery of the things she desires yet remains distanced from. Instead, she sets a softly glowing candle, reminisces and wonders; encapsulating moments she has experienced with a fond embrace – be they happy, sad or somewhere in between.
Whimsy and folk do have a tendency to go hand in hand, but it doesn’t always work when dealing with the complications of relationships. There’s a danger of making light of either the subject matter or the intensity of the emotions. Often the point is lost or falls short of connecting with the audience on a deeper level through the unfortunate and seemingly superficial nature of whimsy itself. With China Mountain it not only works, but it’s done beautifully. By giving them that sense of fragility, it keeps the songs out of the clouds and much closer to the heart – whose wistfulness is just as susceptible to being fractured by realities.
The primary desire still seems to be to connect, to share and be a part of something that sustains instead of burning out and leaving fingers decidedly singed. While these things are spoken of in detail, they are given enough space for the perspective to remain tender rather than veer towards outright melancholy, bitterness, or worse, overly sweet sentimentality. Through Lotte Kestner, Anna-Lynn Williams explores various aspects and effects of distance, both near and far. She also provides the listener with opportunities to close those distances – on ‘Temperature’ for example she promises “I will sing la da da da with you“, and it’s just too lovely an offering not to sing it back.
China Mountain is out now on Silber Records.