Hollie Kenniff’s second LP for Western Vinyl, We All Have Places That We Miss, is a chorus of cloudlike synths, seraphic strings, humming drones, and reverb drenched shoegaze guitars, all melding into an impressionistic story of remembrance, loss, family, and connection. The album’s 2021 precursor, The Quiet Drift, landed on Bandcamp’s Best Ambient list alongside the description “Drawing on the deep tones of drone, dream pop harmonies, and new age’s bright tranquility, Kenniff evokes the forests, lakes and rivers of her past and present surroundings with a zen patience.” Here on Places… she strides even further into reminiscence, seeking and commemorating the fondly tragic ache of half-remembered locales lost to time: A grandparent’s dim living room decorated in the tropes of a vague decade; a lonely clearing beside a trail we can’t be sure if we walked or just dreamt; the calming light of footage captured years before we were born though our feelings insist we were there with the actors on set. Born from bouts of insomnia, grief, and bittersweet familial recollection, We All Have Places That We Miss transmutes Kenniff’s mnemonic glimmers into a transcendentalist sonic kingdom that can be revisited time and again, standing squarely among the pedalboard auras of artists like Windy & Carl, Adam Wiltzie, Julianna Barwick, and Grouper.
The album opens on “Shifting Winds,” quickly giving way to “Salient,” forming a deeply emotional dual prologue that wraps echoing guitar notes loosely around Kenniff’s vocals and piano. “Eunoia” cements the aesthetic with flits of piano from Hollie’s husband Keith Kenniff, aka Goldmund. This track perfectly exemplifies the couple’s shared aptitude for head-on sentimentality without so much as an eyeroll, provoking deep affect while skillfully bypassing the saccharine. Here, near the album’s midpoint, “Momentary” reveals the kosmische side of We All Have Places That We Miss, employing digitized vocal shimmers and quick synth sequences that wouldn’t be out of place on a Harmonia album. Another outlier, “Carve The Ruins,” is anchored around the album’s only moments of percussion: a soft, low kick drum throbbing beneath a topsoil of chorus-y guitar, resulting in the gentlest post-punk possible. These moments shift the gorgeous New Age leanings of the album into subtly unsettling territory, adding the frayed edges needed to convey the more difficult emotions brought about by time’s passing.
“The landscape and pace of life of these places will always stay with me,” Hollie recounts of the Ontario lake she visited from infancy until the onset of the pandemic, when her family made the difficult decision to relinquish their multi-generational home-away-from-home. “I thought about how many people are missing places that are important to them. Sometimes grief feels isolating, and it felt like I was mourning the loss of a place that mattered greatly to me.” With all of this in mind, We All Have Places That We Miss becomes a scratched up polaroid rendered three-dimensional through the power of sound, offering a counter-intuitive certainty of the past through the ambiguous lens of the present.
The setting that inspired the album-- the lakeside hideout Hollie recounts-- is hallowed ground loaded with family history. Her grandparents built this lakeside cottage where her parents eventually met as teenagers, and her father is now buried a short distance from that same place. Now with her own family to look after, Kenniff feels the unrelenting procession of life ever more palpably. “Whenever I visited the lake,” She explains, “I felt like my father’s presence was still there and that my sons experienced a place he loved more than anywhere else.”
Much of the album was conjured in the wee hours of the morning while Hollie dealt with chronic insomnia spurred by anemia. Though difficult, her condition enabled her to deeply investigate the liminal spaces between waking and sleeping, memory and history, and even living and dying. A thriving garden of gauzy textures that feel discrete and indistinguishable all at once, We All Have Places That We Miss is a first-hand audio treatise on these in-between realms, and the concepts of time, death, loss, growth, love, and longing that are clarified within them. Hollie Kenniff proves once again to be an ideal guide into such unreachable places.
Her voice is like sunlight, exposing the world and expunging it from total darkness.
This is some of the nicest ambient composition we’ve heard in a while…
a kind of sacred music that’s unpretentious and real.
…with these pieces there is a very peaceful and nurturing prescence felt.
This album isn’t just interesting, it’s beautiful.
Drawing on the deep tones of drone, dream pop harmonies, and new age’s bright tranquility, Kenniff evokes the forests, lakes and rivers of her past and present surroundings with a zen patience.
…one of ambient music’s leaders…
Dreamy, reﬂective and full of emotion...