Windy & Carl - Allegiance and Conviction [Kranky - 2020]Windy and Carl is a name I’ve been aware of for years, indeed, as a revered name, but beyond crossing paths with their music on a few compilations this is the first time my ears have spent much time with them. The duo have been crafting ‘inner space…vistas for nearly three decades now,’ maximising what can be achieved with some guitars and effect pedals. Allegiance and Conviction has six tracks, notably shorter than those on previous releases according to the press sheet, and has been a thoroughly engaging introduction to their work for me.
Saying that, the first track, on first listen, jarred badly with me. The Stranger sets out Windy and Carl’s stall concisely: echoing, cascading guitar strums blurring detail and drone, which swirl and build into deeply layered blocks of sound - weightless but heavy. However, it also begins with a vocal that, to my ears, feels not fully rooted in the guitars underneath, as if it were superimposed rather than blended. This may well be an idiosyncratic reaction on my part, but, whilst I still hear that disjuncture, repeated listens of Allegiance… have welcomed that vocal as an uncanny element, a statement that the album isn’t a vapid autopilot journey of ambient bliss but a living breathing work with grit and knots: it’s human. There are further, breathy vocals across Allegiance… which wander across the layers of guitar, not aimlessly but with a casually observed, organic cadence, adding to the overall sense of purposeful drift. This drift is expertly fleshed out with mesmerising guitar work from the duo. Alone, a highlight of the album, begins dramatically and emotively with blusters of guitar, before transmuting into a passage of near-techno propulsion, embellished by lurching swathes of guitar. Will I See Dawn surrounds piano-like guitar lines with dark drones and blown out white noise, whilst Recon floats blissfully on waves of guitar echo. Admittedly, all tracks operate within similar territories, but this gives Allegiance… a coherence and focus that draws in and envelops the listener.
This is a consummate album, and it’s been a wonderful initiation into Windy and Carl’s world. In many respects Allegiance and Conviction is arguably not much different to the endless slew of side-projects from ‘people-in-bands-who-decide-to-do-a-solo-soundscape-album-with-their-loop-pedals’; the key difference, though, is that Windy and Carl display their undeniable craft and depth, developed over many years, and mark these precisely by not taking easy or cheap paths. Whilst the connotations of space, ambience, and introversion will always be associated with these kinds of sounds, by rigorously ‘digging into’ the material Windy and Carl produce an almost hardboiled version that eschews crowd pleasing gestures or empty spectacle. You might imagine Flying Saucer Attack shorn of pastoral themes and reduced to guitar technique and sound, which I realise sounds terrible but there is an abstract quality to Allegiance… that leaves the listener concentrating on the guitar work itself, not as shredding theatrics but as immersive, thick aural environments. This is not to suggest that the tracks are formal or sterile: two beating hearts lay conspicuously beneath them. Listening to Allegiance and Conviction with the windows open in these quiet corona lockdown evenings, accompanied by sparse birdsong, it really is an album of pleasant, captivating warmth, yet still deep and demanding.Martin P