Album Review: Windy & Carl – Allegiance and Conviction

[Kranky; 2020]

Being in imposed domicile lockdown due to ‘you-know-what’ is a litmus test for any relationship – being in a creative partnership with your loved one must be several levels harder. The fact that the wife/husband team Windy & Carl have managed to knock out exquisite dream-pop for almost 30 years suggests that they are a cut above us mere mortals.

Allegiance and Conviction is their first album since 2012’s We Will Always Be, and is a slight shift away from their extensive back catalogue, with shorter songs than usual. They still reverberate with Carl Hultgren’s shimmering guitar work, while drones and intimate moments of quiet reflection are often overlaid with Windy Weber’s whispered vocals. Yet, there is an efficiency to this album as a whole, a clear sense of purpose and direction which cannot be claimed for many of their albums, which tend to wander in a beautiful haze for however long it takes. Meandering seems like a pejorative term, but it is the perfect description for sumptuous deep cuts such as “When We Were” and “Consciousness”, which are particular pearls in the work of this duo.

Album opener “The Stranger” feels at odds with their work to date in its starkness. Where Windy’s vocals have always been way back in the mix and languidly delivered, here they are front and centre and astonishingly raw. Where layers of distorted and washed out guitar and bass have previously enveloped her voice in a warm blanket of reassurance, here she is almost left alone in the early part of the song to deliver her lines before the swell of guitar takes over. This vulnerability is emphasised with the opening line “I’m in plain view / Out looking for you” which, when coupled with the prominence of her bass line as accompaniment, tells a tale of comfort in the ‘allegiance and conviction’ that this pair have. As Carl’s guitar breathes and steps into the fold, Windy becomes enwrapped within it, her bass and voice both succumbing becoming part of a wider sound rather than the relatively bleak, almost impuissant stance at the beginning. You get the feeling that the song pretty much sums up how these two feel about each other.

“Recon” follows and is a beautiful wash of guitars (think Robin Guthrie covering Slowdive) with Windy’s vocals being barely audible in the background. There is an almost mystical folk music feel to this track, twilight shoegaze for idlers. The drones that sway back and forth in the distance offer an optimistic feel, like new life blossoming after the harshest of winters. Hope in all things is what Windy & Carl offer us. The wide expansive soundscapes served up build in the slowest of fashions yet there still feels as though a direction is intended, these are not the noodlings of improvised apathy.

“Moth to the Flame” increases the breezy feel, while “Alone” is as nebulous as anything on Belong’s wonderful October Language album, which is perhaps the pinnacle dream-noise-gaze album. On occasion this track threatens to burst into unnecessary life, but they hold their nerve and keep things slow. The feedback coming in waves that at first suggests a shift of gear, but theirs is an allegiance and conviction not just to each other but also to the musical landscape that they have created around themselves, like an amniotic fluid form of protection and comfort.  

The album ends on “Crossing Over” that features a repeated guitar refrain which is more immediate than we are used to with this pair – it’s even hummable. The bookend created between the vulnerability of Windy on “The Stranger” and Carl’s overly confident, almost strutting, playing on “Crossing Over” is interesting, as both feel entirely out of character and somehow misplaced. The fact that both tracks then fall into more familiar territory for Windy & Carl is significant, as though new elements were tried and tested, yet ultimately the comfort in the undulating dream-drone that has become their signature sound is all-encompassing.

Allegiance and Conviction is an album to take solace in, to shut out the constant noise of the world we live in and to escape into blissful soundscapes that embrace and envelope you whole.