In 2019, when veteran electronic music veteran (and longtime Spotted Peccary artist) Craig Padilla joined forces with his longtime friend, guitarist Marvin Allen, to create Toward the Horizon – the first epic album in a proposed trilogy – there was no way they could have fathomed the upcoming pandemic, our collective anxiety and our need for encouragement to help us overcome the trauma and its aftermath. Yet there they were regaling us with what I then called “an endlessly fascinating, richly textured exploration that hums, whirs, rolls and throbs along like the musical equivalents of the mists and clouds like the lonely but well equipped traveler on the CD cover.”
Fans of Padilla’s solo work and the duo’s debut collaboration and its 2021 follow-up Strange Gravity have long speculated on who this iconic Umbrella Girl is and what she represents. With the release of the intricately produced, intensely cathartic and alternately warmly subtle and soaring and empowering third work Weathering the Storm, no doubt the speculation continues. Yet since this hourlong, eight track masterwork of slowly building, undulating emotions and dynamic mood swings is designed as the conclusion of the three part series, a strong possibility emerges.
When they started out on this journey, Padilla and Allen may never have fathomed Umbrella Girl’s ultimate meaning. Yet combining her compelling impressionistic image with a title like Weathering the Storm, the clouds lift for us just long enough for us to realize that she, like the music, was conjured to be not only our guide through but our shelter/protector from one of the greatest storms to hit humanity in the modern world. The fact that she has a companion with an umbrella on the cover of the third album may just mean that having survived, we can now join her on the ongoing quest for meaning that Padilla and Allen have been illuminating from the start.
Intriguingly, the two launch Weathering the Storm the same way they introduced us to their dual vibe on Toward the Horizon, with a nearly 20 minute journey of quietly growing sonic invention and trippy, infectious and immersive vibes ultimately exploding in a blast of funky synth energy and raucous rock guitar. Appropriately, it’s titled “The Prodigal Sun,” no doubt a dual reference to both our return to sanity and the re-emergence of light into our lives after so long. The length of time it takes to make its powerful emotional impact challenges our patience in much the same way as a trauma in life and the time it takes to work through it. When sweet relief comes, at first we exhale, then our hearts begin beating faster with anticipation – and finally we exhale and exult. Padilla and Allen take us on that journey.
Weathering the Storm would be an instant ambient electronic classic for “The Prodigal Sun” alone, but the other 40 minutes of the set offer equally powerful, inspirational fuel four our hearts, minds and souls. “A Matter of Time, part 1” is a gentle, three minute relaxing respite from the storm, a chance to catch our breath and feel the soothing presence of Padilla’s dreamy atmospheres and Allen’s gentle, soulful acoustic guitar. Likewise dreamlike and soothing, but with the added sparkle of Allen’s guitar, “A Matter of Time, part 2” pops up a brief interlude later between the foreboding 10-minute title track (which builds different intensities of haunting darkness throughout) and the slightly more hopeful “Onwards and Upwards,” which presents a palette full of synth wash, subtly hypnotic percussive rhythms and a sweet piano melody which here sounds like shards of light poking through some tough times.
Just as Towards the Horizon had a water theme (and corresponding liquified musical flow) on a few tracks, one of Weathering the Storm’s most intriguing tracks is “Aquatic,” which incorporates actual foreboding sounds of nature (wind and thunder from a growing tornado, heavy rainfall) into a fusion of hypnotic ambiences and sparkling guitar. At certain junctures, the duo creates a murky vibe to bring the listener down in the deep – almost like a refuge from the storms swirling above. Allen is credited with using his recording equipment to capture weather sounds while the two were witnessing the formation of a funnel cloud.
Not that ambient electronic works like these ever aim for radio friendly singles, but the graceful, beautifully melodic, Sunflowers in the Wind” breezes along like a scintillating, infectious rock instrumental centered on a fascinating melodic-harmonic tension between Allen’s acoustic strum and his simmering electric intensity. A fiery showcase for the dynamic interplay between the two sonic masters, this track is a mini-epic all its own, showing just how many themes and emotional heft can emerge in only four and a half minutes. The gorgeous video for the track (embedded above) expands the umbrella motif with an array of compelling images for the first few minutes - and then the sunflowers take over in a grand symbolic gesture of moving towards the light.
Now that the Padilla-Allen trilogy is complete, here’s hoping the two find another muse like Umbrella Girl and get started on a new project to titillate our senses and help us make sense of our still chaotic world very soon.
Listen to Weathering the Storm here: https://open.spotify.com/album/0RUIIas98bKd2qpu4ITrlu?si=hVtyjYnDTum2Uukw07tsBQ&nd=1