Album Review: Lotte Kestner - Off White

Anna-Lynne Williams’ voice has always been fragile. Whether it is when she was the de facto frontwoman for her now defunct band Trespassers William, or her solo work released under the Lotte Kestner moniker—her voice is like one of eggshells, or of glass that is on the verge of cracking.

If you do a direct comparison between Williams’ work now, and her work with Trespassers, you can hear how she’s grown into her vocal fragility. No longer exhibiting that youthful shimmer it had on an album like Different Stars, it has grown wiser, and possibly wearier from time; you can hear those experiences in every note. At times, she barely sings above a whisper, but with that restraint and reserve in the delivery, Williams is pushing through as much emotion as she can.

Following the surprising success of her cover of Beyonce’s “Halo” (included on the soundtrack to HBO’s “The Young Pope”) Williams has returned with Off White, her first collection of new and original material in over four years.

Like her other solo efforts, Off White is an album that can soundtrack quiet, intimate, and introspective moments. Not the kind of record that is going to fill a room when played over a stereo, as much as I hate the expression—it truly is a ‘headphone record,’ and Williams herself suggests that is how the listener experiences it.

As anticipated with a relatively somber, or at least pensive affair, Off White is not exactly an energetic listen, but there are certainly moments that demand your attention, including the emotionally startling and surprisingly brief opening track, “Secret Longitude”—structured around strong and resonate piano chords, Williams delivers reflective, fragmented lyrics reminiscent of poetry (she, herself a poet as well.) “Someone who won’t leave you, and forget the words,” she states in a way that is both a wish for what someone in the future won’t do, and what someone in the past shouldn’t have.

On the lush and warm “Have You Sailed Home,” Williams incorporates additional instrumentation along with her minimalist set up of piano and guitar, this time including a string section, which provides an extra layer of depth to the song, specifically during the song’s refrain, where her voice briefly reaches an incredibly delicate falsetto, aided along by the sweeping, grand string arrangements.

Those strings return towards the end of the record on “Senses,” but this time, rather than introducing a layer of warmth, they help cultivate an icy chill alongside Williams’ voice.

Elsewhere, on tracks like “Go to Sleep Now” (one of the album’s most infectious) and “Ghosts,” Williams taps into some of the ramshackle, lo-fi, esoteric aesthetics of Ormonde, her collaborative project with Robert Gomez—adding effects to her voice and additional moody atmospheric touches. And in the case of “Go to Sleep Now,” it’s the one song that includes percussion.

One of Off White’s strongest moments arrives near its conclusion, in the relatively simplistic sounding ballad “Another Moon,” which kind of showcases what Williams does best as a singer and songwriter—conjuring up so very much while working with so very little.

Williams has pretty much abandoned the whole spectral folk meets shoegaze aesthetic of her former band—that’d be hard to do as just one person—and has just embraced the somber, spectral folk aspect. While Trespassers William records were always good ‘fall records,’ Off White, as well as Williams’ other solo efforts, can be looked at as transitional records, for when the bittersweet nostalgic warmth of autumn turns into the lonely, long nights of winter.

Performing in some capacity for 20 years now, Off White is a record that shows Williams’ continued growth as a solo performer, singer, and songwriter, and while a sparse, haunting cover of “Halo” may have gotten her tons of recognition, she is more than that.