Loraine James kept busy in 2020, processing the year’s turbulence through her art. The North London producer started a monthly show on NTS radio, shared several projects on Bandcamp, and recorded two Hyperdub releases, the Nothing EP and Reflection, the proper LP follow-up to her 2019 breakthrough, For You and I (which landed James, then a teaching assistant by day, the top spot on year-end lists by Quietus and DJ Mag). She also returned to a distinct creative terrain uncharted since her teenage years. In contrast to her club music sensibilities, this mode embraces keyboard improvisations and vocal experimentation, foregoing percussive structure in favor of shaping atmosphere and tone. From this divergent headspace emerged new coordinates and climates, a new outlet: Whatever The Weather. A longtime fan of ambient-adjacent Ghostly International artists such as Telefon Tel Aviv (who she’d ask to master the album), HTRK (whose singer Jonnine Standish features on Nothing), and Lusine (whom she remixed at the start of 2021), James saw the label as the ideal home for this eponymous album of airy, transportive tracks as they began to formulate.
The titling on Whatever The Weather works in degrees; simple parameters allowing James to focus on the nuances as a mood-builder. Her suspended universe fluctuates; freezing, thawing, swaying and blooming from track to track. James describes her jam-based approach for the sessions as “free-flowing, stopping when I felt like I was done,” allowing her subconscious to lead. The improvisations have an intrinsic fluidity to them, akin to sudden weather events passing over a single environment — the location feels fixed while the conditions vary.
The album opens at “25°C,” a sun shower of soft hums and keys. As the longest piece, it serves to establish stability, the inflection point where any move above or below this temperate breeze breaks the bliss. Given James’ proclivity for organized chaos in her production, this scene is fleeting, naturally. From that utopia, we plummet to the most melancholic read on the meter, “0°C,” its isolated synth line traversing a hailstorm of steely beats and static. Next, the dial jumps for the propulsive standout “17°C.” Like a time lapse of springtime in the city, the single accelerates across a frenzy of frames; car horns, screeching brakes, and crosswalk chatter fill the pauses between rapid jolts of multi-shaped percussion.
For portions of the work, James leans neo-classical, rendering pensive vignettes of cascading piano keys and warm delay. “2°C (Intermittent Rain)” ends the A-Side on a short and stormy loop; a resulting sense of reset permeates the B-Side’s opener, “10°C.” The producer mingles intuitively on echoed organ, locking into and abandoning atypical rhythms that suggest her jazz-oriented interests. “4°C” and “30°C” display the range of James’ vocal experiments. The former chops and pitches her voice to a rhythmic, otherworldly effect, the latter reveals James at her most straightforward (she cites Deftones’ Chino Moreno and American Football’s Mike Kinsella as inspirations), singing tenderly and unobstructed for nearly the duration before beats collide in the climax.
Whatever The Weather closes at “36°C,” while a sweltering heat by any standards the track eases along comfortably on a chorus of synth waves, acting as an apt bookend for this evocative, sky-tracing collection that started in a similar state. Cyclical, seasonal, and unpredictable, true to its namesake.