Most might be familiar with Alison Cotton via her more high profile alignments with The Eighteenth Day of May or The Left Outsides, but her solo works have been stacking up over the years. Often slightly tangential to the folk works of Left Outsides, her solo recordings lean into the somber strains of the viola paired with a folk sound that moves between pastoral and funereal. On The Portrait You Painted of Me, she skewed much heavier towards the tidal breath of the funeral strains. The forests that encircle this album don’t let much light in — disorienting the traveler, trapping the traveler, and rising from the edges with a darkness that’s all consuming, if not at times quite sinister.
There are parallels to some contemporaries. The wordless float would certainly appeal to those who’ve been entranced by Julianna Barwick, though there’s none of her lightness here. The wooded desperation aligns with some of the Sacred Bones family, most especially the starkness of Zola Jesus and the folk sway of Marissa Nadler, but you’d be more apt to tumble back through the mirrored walls of The Marble Index to find a sound that’s tying those together. Haunted is a word that can often get laced into reviews and simply mean that there’s a nagging strangeness, but on The Portrait You Painted of Me, Cotton’s sound is truly an embodiment of haunted. The loss and loneliness of the record pull at the soul like a bog burial, letting the dampness damn the mind and soak the heart.
Cotton’s originals lead to the sole lyrical number on the album, the traditional-folk-rooted, “Violet May.” Cotton’s delivery keeps with the album’s tone, the slight break in the darkness only giving enough light to let vines grow around the wordless sorrow of the rest of the album. “Violet May” acts as a kind of inscription on the grave of the album, a light etching of meaning to the well of sorrow.