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Lovegaze is a disarmingly beautiful effort from Nailah Hunter


Release date: 12 January 2024
Nailah Hunter Lovegaze cover
13 January 2024, 11:00 Written by Janne Oinonen

The harp has been having a resurgence.

Yet it has rarely ventured quite as far from its origins as a genteel and gently inobtrusive parlour instrument of the bygone days as it does on Lovegaze, the alluringly otherworldly debut album by LA-based harpist, singer and songwriter Nailah Hunter.

On Lovegaze, Hunter establishes a distinct musical identity from other artists who are currently exploring the enduring creative potential of the harp. There are aspects here of the meditative impressionism of Mary Lattimore and the instrument's revived central role in contemporary reboots of the spiritual jazz lexicon fashioned by the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Alice Coltrane (with the likes of Makaya McCraven and Matthew Halsall both placing the harp front and centre of their expansive ensembles). However, Lovegaze treks further into the shadows to present a murkier, more mysterious sound, full of fog and strange potions, while still remaining rooted in substantial songwriting. The end results are often disarmingly beautiful.

Rooted in the often dreamily floating ripples of the Celtic harp that Hunter borrowed for the album sessions, which are then meticulously cloaked in predominantly electronic textures at their most pillowy and caressing, Lovegaze nods towards New Age-ian ambient drift and trip hop's heavy-lidded narcotically creamy haze, with subtle hints also of the ethereal swirl of shoegaze or the dream-pop of Cocteau Twins. The album is unmistakably psychedelic in its ability to evoke extrasensory inner space explorations, but despite being recorded in a small coastal town by the English Channel (with producer Cicely Goulder), its roots seem equally planted in the dense mists, yapping alligator jaws and medicinal roots of some mythical humid swampland.

The prevailing mood of Lovegaze is one of almost impenetrable webs of longing, to the point where the entire enterprise could easily collapse into overripe melodrama in lesser hands. Hunter's material and approach are enticing enough to avoid such pitfalls. Lovegaze can resemble luxuriously layered background music for the less attentive listener, but full concentration exposes the hypnotic pull of the songwriting behind the richly textured arrangements, nocturnal moods and arresting wealth of detail. ‘’I dream of beheadings and goose-feather beddings’’, Hunter trills at one particularly ethereal point, and the combination of indulgent luxury and unsettling intent gives quite an apt impression of Lovegaze’s often intoxicatingly potent contents. “Finding Mirrors” and “Strange Delights” are both soaring low-lit mutations of pop song forms, full of arresting detail and slow-burn hooks, but the album impresses just as much during its quieter moments. The title track is a majestic slow-motion totem to wistful longing, while the silently soaring space-folk closer “Into the Sun” – with Hunter’s harp in the spotlight – prove that Hunter’s songs and voice are powerful enough to impress when stripped totally bare.

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