Graded on a Curve:
Windy and Carl,
Allegiance and Conviction

While this column focuses on new releases, current events are mentioned only intermittently. As we (meaning, the human race) are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is one of those times. During a sustained crisis, art and its makers often get undervalued or pushed aside, but the nature of this emergency has illuminated the necessity of creativity in our world. Whatcha gonna do when you gotta stay home? Listen to records, maybe. Dearborn, MI’s Windy and Carl have a new one out, and while the terse and humorous motto of their label is “going nowhere slow,” rest assured that dropping needle on Allegiance and Conviction will take you places. It’s available now on LP, CD, and digital via Kranky.

Bassist-vocalist Windy Weber and guitarist Carl Hultgren commenced their musical partnership (they are also married) in the early ’90s as part of that decade’s thriving drone-ambient-experimental-psychedelic-shoegaze underground. At the time, if you were into Roy Montgomery, The Azusa Plane, Jessamine and even the slightly higher-profile outfits Flying Saucer Attack, Bardo Pond, Damon and Naomi, and Low, the odds are good that you’d picked up on at least a percentage of what Windy & Carl had laid down.

That is to say, the pair were fairly prolific across a string of releases, output that unsurprisingly included a long stretch of various artists compilation appearances, with these contributions corralled on one of the three compact discs in the self-released (on the Blue Flea label) Introspection: Singles and Rarities 1993-2000; disc one is devoted to 7-inches and EPs, while disc three holds live and unreleased material.

For those unfamiliar with Windy & Carl’s work, Introspection would deliver a solid, if extensive, introduction to their stuff, though you could begin just as satisfactorily with Portal, their debut full-length from 1994, initially a cassette (on Blue Flea) and shortly thereafter pressed onto CD (via Ba Da Bing!). From there, moving forward chronologically is a safe bet.

And yet a third option is to check out Allegiance and Conviction and then proceed backward, or in fact anywhere in the discography you wish, for doing so reveals a remarkable consistency in sound, in quality, and in purpose, with this last aspect shoring up their oeuvre as something special. To elaborate, across their existence, Windy & Carl’s output has fostered the impression that the music is a direct byproduct of the sweet satisfaction of its making. If this seems a given in record-making, it occurs far less frequently than you might expect.

But don’t misconstrue that Allegiance and Conviction possesses a joyous air. “The Stranger” begins the LP with an atmosphere of ominousness, this tension gradually increasing trough Hultgren’s guitar and Weber’s subtle bass as her vocals, which exude a husky-chilliness that’s almost European, give way to an instrumental finale.

Weber doesn’t always sing in the Windy & Carl scheme historically, but when she does, and she does so on all of Allegiance and Conviction’s tracks except one, she makes it count, complementing or providing counterpoint to the instrumental climates. Sometimes, as during the glistening and gliding “Recon,” she complements and contrasts simultaneously.

It’s the sorta framework that could easily please a fan of Popol Vuh, but Weber’s voice will just as likely turn on folks into Cocteau Twins, though “Recon”’s appealing drift aside, don’t get the idea that Windy & Carl are especially ethereal. A closer point of comparison between the Twins and W&C is a shared preference for relatively concise track durations, though this album’s “Moth to the Flame” does reach the nine-minute mark (in the context of the scene in which they operate, this isn’t a particularly long time).

While Weber does sing on this selection, the majority of the piece is devoted to unhurried outward movement that reinforces the duo’s space rock bona fides. What’s nice is a concurrent robustness (I don’t want to say heft) that situates the music as part of the aforementioned ’90s underground. The next track, “Alone,” opens with guitar loudness that emphasizes their relationship to the u-ground scene even more, and with a tendency toward drone-experimentalism rather than pure shoegaze (nearer to Xpressway than Creation).

“Will I See the Dawn” redirects toward the ambient. Although it’s aptly described as tranquil, the cut, the only one without vocals, never falters into the insubstantial. It flows directly into Allegiance and Conviction’s finale “Crossing Over,” a piece that hovers rather than drifts, with the clouds of Hultgren’s guitar and Weber’s spoken vocals reminding me a bit of later-period Sonic Youth. It’s a fine ending to a record that’s succinct and expansive at once.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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