Her version of Beyonce’s “Halo,” from 2013’s The Bluebird of Happiness, captivated the world. It garnered international attention when HBO series The Young Pope used it in a pivotal scene. Now Lotte Kestner returns with Off White, her devastating new album. Its unsparing, alabaster songs are powerful enough to age a young pope 50 years and shatter his faith in the almighty.
Lotte Kestner is the pseudonym of Anna-Lynne Williams, formerly the singer in beloved band Trespassers William and collaborator with the Chemical Brothers.
When Williams is singing, it hurts to breathe. Her voice is luminous and made of pearls. She sings love songs for hospitals. Off White is so unbearably moving, so jaw-droppingly intimate, that you’ll never be the same again after hearing it.
At times her voice is a dead ringer for Magnolia-era Aimee Mann, but the sparse spiritual yearning of Talk Talk or Red House Painters is a more apt comparison. The songs may be driven by piano, or understated acoustic guitar, but they’re fleshed out with bloodless synths, or in the case of “Have You Sailed Home,” beautiful strings. The darkness of a clean white room, furnished in ivory and plastered with eggshells.
It’s the eerie delay/reverb effect on the verses in the midnight waltz of “Eight Ball” that kills us. It’s the sound of yellow chalk being dragged across an icicle and conveys the true artistry behind Lotte Kestner’s music. To call it folk, to call it anything, does a disservice to her intelligence and her art.
Off White is a treasure, an album of shadows and silhouettes. Songs you’d want played at your funeral, elegiac and uplifting, valedictory and ashen. It ends with a solitary piano figure, nothing left to say. Words always fail us, and sometimes silence is the best way to convey what is dead in our hearts.