Mazzy Star & Hope Sandoval

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

She Hangs Brightly , 7/10
So Tonight That I Might See , 7.5/10
Among My Swan , 6/10
Hope Sandoval: Bavarian Fruit Bread , 7/10
Hope Sandoval: Through the Devil Softly (2009), 6/10
Hope Sandoval: Until The Hunter (2016), 6/10
Seasons of Your Day (2013), 6/10

The concept of ethereal female vocals coupled with understated arrangements was pioneered by a group that originated from the psychedelic movement, Mazzy Star. Rain Parade's and Opal's guitarist David Roback replaced Kendra Smith with a more delicate vocalist, Hope Sandoval, and greatly expanded the scope of his music on She Hangs Brightly (1990), a melting pot of acoustic folk, Delta blues, oneiric acid-rock and laconic lounge jazz. So Tonight That I Might See (1993) barely increased the melodic element of their tender lullabies, which reached alternatively for the galactic, subliminal, mystical and impressionistic levels.
(Translation from my old Italian text by DommeDamian)

David Roback, the former Rain Parade who gave birth to Opal with Kendra Smith , continued the experience of this second group in Mazzy Star, a seven-piece combo among which singer Hope Sandoval stands out. The slender and sensual register of this (a sort of Janis Joplin innocent child) goes well with the spatial chords of the guitarist, one of the great masters of psychedelic accompaniment. Mazzy Stars are basically Opals with Hope Sandoval replacing Kendra Smith.

In 1990, the debut album, She Hangs Brightly (Rough Trade) was released, whose compositions, paranoidly dedicated to amorous themes, are fused in a melting pot of acoustic folk, Delta blues and dreamlike acidrock that touches laconic tones and shades of Cowboy Junkies. The very delicate cartilages of Halah and Be My Angel originate from an unlikely cross between the first Velvet Underground, the soul of Motown and the country of Nashville. In this context, even the most archaic blues of Taste of Blood , Free and I'm Sailing finds a modern dimension. These melodies gently cradled in the womb of crystal clear chords (above all Ride It On), this sort of slow-motion folkrock (Give You My Lovin), chisels otherworldly atmospheres, of absolute peace and quiet. Masterpiece in the masterpiece is the title-track, a ghostly ballad, wrapped in a murky mist of Manzarek-like organs and guitar languors. Overall, the album constitutes one of the most striking results achieved by post-Pasley psychedelia.

Three years pass before the line-up repeats itself, with So Tonight That I Might See (Capitol, 1993), and picks up exactly where it left off. If possible, the sound has become even more slack, it has become even more "sidereal", less and less terrestrial. Impressionist, subconscious, mystical, carved sentence after sentence with painstaking care in filigree more and more transparent of sound, this is music that, from the folkrock lullaby of Bells Ring to the "slow" worthy of an orchestra of the 50s Blue Light, constitutes a long excursus into an abstract, dreamlike, magical world.
In this sense, the heart of the album is made up of the songs in which slow, languid, ineffable swoonings give rise to the most tender serenades of all time, such as Fade Into You. The minimal arrangement of Five String Serenade is exemplary from this point of view, with almost imperceptible accords of double bass and violin, and the quilted harmony of small classical touches of Into Dust . The sound reaches the intensity of a black mass in Mary of Silence, a gloomy litany chanted over the dark rumble of a harmonium and the screeching of guitar distortions. In these episodes the rhythm fades into catatonic cadences.
The record goes to glory with the long So Tonight That I Might See, a hypnotic and lysergic (but never sinister) raga who recalls something of the Velvet Underground and something of the Doors, without imitating either of them.

Among My Swan (Capitol, 1996), the third Mazzy Star album (again three years after the previous one, as happened for the second), however, affirms the primacy of accompaniment. It is now feeling like Sandoval's voice is nothing more than the ribbon on the gift box. What matters is the instrumental part, to which we owe the brushstroke atmospheres with such intensity and / or torpor. These can only be reproached for fishing too blatantly in the book of rock, for carving the childish chants of Disappear and Happy in the fairy tale jingle of Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground and Nico), for rocking Flowers In December with your favorite slow song of the years. '60, to sing the solemn Cry Cry to the notes of a Neil Young waltz, to orchestrate the chamber country of All Your Sisters (complete with cello) as one of those heart murmurs of Leonard Cohen, to play the organ requiem of Umbilical as the most ceremonial solemn of early Pink Floyd, to hover Take Everything's thrilling progression of tones stolen from Dylan's Knocking On Heaven's Door. And, of course, everything is assimilated and mulled over. Why hadn't someone else thought of making that marginal rock mood an art in its own right beforehand? The ensemble only dares to go further in Rhymes of An Hour, for cyclical strumming and Indian-like litany, a stone's throw from that cosmic trance that was perhaps their original project. In all this, the instruments do the bare minimum, rarely raising their voices above that of the singer. But that bare minimum is what counts. Once turned sideways, the trick shows the rope a bit. The songs become a little equal to each other, conventional Nashville country takes over in I've Been Let Down and Rose Blood

As if to say: our commercial power has increased, we might as well take advantage of it (i.e. kind of a sell-out).

For six years, Sandoval's hushed cry has cheered the sleeps of lovers of this kind of psychedelic, spatial and sleepy ballad, which has quietly emerged from the Los Angeles scene. Behind an apparently harmless guitar style, Roback hides a psychedelic intelligence among the brightest ever.

David Roback, l'ex Rain Parade che aveva dato vita con Kendra Smith agli Opal, ha continuato l'esperienza di questo secondo gruppo nei Mazzy Star, un combo di sette elementi fra cui spicca la cantante Hope Sandoval. Il registro esile e sensuale di questa (una sorta di Janis Joplin bambina innocente) ben si accoppia agli accordi spaziali del chitarrista, uno dei grandi maestri dell'accompagnamento psichedelico. I Mazzy Star sono sostanzialmente gli Opal con Hope Sandoval al posto di Kendra Smith.

Nel 1990 viene pubblicato l'album d'esordio, She Hangs Brightly (Rough Trade), le cui composizioni, paranoicamente dedicate a temi amorosi, sono fuse in un crogiolo di folk acustico, blues del Delta e acidrock onirico che lambisce i toni laconici e sfumati dei Cowboy Junkies. Le delicatissime cartilagini di Halah e Be My Angel hanno origine da un improbabile incrocio fra i primi Velvet Underground, il soul della Motown e il country di Nashville. In tale contesto anche il blues piu` arcaico di Taste of Blood, Free e I'm Sailing trova una dimensione moderna. Queste melodie cullate dolcemente nel grembo di accordi limpidissimi (su tutte Ride It On), questa sorta di folkrock al ralenti` (Give You My Lovin), cesellano atmosfere ultraterrene, di pace e quiete assolute. Capolavoro nel capolavoro e` la title-track, una ballata spettrale, avvolta in una torbida bruma di organi alla Manzarek e di languori chitarristici. Nel complesso l'album costituisce uno dei risultati piu` suggestivi raggiunti dalla psichedelia post-Pasley.

Passano tre anni prima che la formazione si ripeta, con So Tonight That I Might See (Capitol, 1993), e riprenda il discorso esattamente da dove si era interrotto. Se possibile, il sound si e` ancor piu` allentato, si e` fatto ancor piu` "siderale", sempre meno terrestre. Impressionista, subconscia, mistica, scolpita frase a frase con cura certosina in filigrane sempre piu` trasparenti di suono, questa e` musica che, dalla ninnananna folkrock di Bells Ring al "lento" degno di un'orchestrina degli anni '50 Blue Light, costituisce un lungo excursus in un mondo astratto, onirico, magico.
In questo senso il cuore del disco e` costituito dai brani in cui lenti, languidi, ineffabili deliqui danno luogo a serenate innamorate fra le piu` tenere di sempre, come Fade Into You. Esemplari da questo punto di vista l'arrangiamento minimale di Five String Serenade, con accordi quasi impercettibili di contrabbasso e violino, e l'armonia trapunta di piccoli tocchi classicheggianti di Into Dust. Il sound raggiunge intensita` da messa nera in Mary Of Silence, una tetra litania cantilenata sul cupo rombo di un harmonium e sullo stridore delle distorsioni chitarristiche. In questi episodi il ritmo svanisce in cadenze catatoniche.
Il disco va in gloria con la lunga So Tonight That I Might See, un raga ipnotico e lisergico (ma mai sinistro) che richiama qualcosa dei Velvet Underground e qualcosa dei Doors, senza peraltro imitare nessuno dei due.

Among My Swan (Capitol, 1996), il terzo album dei Mazzy Star (di nuovo a tre anni dal precedente, com'era successo per il secondo) afferma pero` il primato dell'accompagnamento. Ormai e` chiaro che la voce di Sandoval e` nulla piu` del fiocco sul pacco regalo. Quel che conta e` la parte strumentale, a cui si devono le atmosfere pennellate con tanta intensita` e/o torpore. A queste si puo` soltanto rimproverare di pescare troppo palesemente nel libro del rock, di intagliare le cantilene infantili di Disappear e Happy nel tintinnio fiabesco di Sunday Morning (Nico e Velvet Underground), di cullare Flowers In December con il vostro lento preferito degli anni '60, di intonare il solenne Cry Cry sulle note di un valzer di Neil Young, di orchestrare il country da camera di All Your Sisters (con tanto di violoncello) come uno di quei soffi al cuore di Leonard Cohen, di suonare il requiem d'organo di Umbilical come i cerimoniali piu` solenni dei primi Pink Floyd, di librare la progressione da brivido di Take Everything su toni rubati alla Knocking On Heaven's Door di Dylan. Certo, tutto viene assimilato e rimuginato. E comunque perche' non ci aveva pensato prima qualcun altro a fare di quell'umore marginale del rock un'arte a se stante? Il complesso osa spingersi oltre soltanto in Rhymes Of An Hour, per strimpellio ciclico e litania indianeggiante, a due passi da quella trance cosmica che forse era il loro progetto originale. In tutto questo gli strumenti fanno il minimo indispensabile, raramente levando la loro voce sopra quella della cantante. Ma proprio quel minimo indispensabile e` quel che conta. Una volta girato lato, il trucco mostra un po' la corda. Le canzoni si fanno un po' uguali l'una all'altra, il country convenzionale di Nashville prende il sopravvento in I've Been Let Down e Rose Blood. Come a dire: il nostro potere commerciale e` aumentato, tanto vale approfittarne.

Il vagito sommesso di Sandoval allieta da sei anni i sonni degli amanti di questo genere di ballad psichedelica, spaziale e sonnolenta, emersa in sordina dalla scena di Los Angeles. Dietro uno stile chitarristico apparentemente innocuo Roback nasconde un'intelligenza psichedelica fra le piu` luminose di sempre.

Hope Sandoval's first solo album, Bavarian Fruit Bread (Rough Trade, 2001 - Nettwerk, 2009), features the arrangements of former My Bloody Valentine multi-instrumentalist Colm O'Ciosoig. The magic haze of Mazzy Star opens up to reveal a desolate landscape, a personal wasteland of manic depression. Sandoval sounds like a lonely child lost in the chamber music of Feeling of Gaze, a romantic teenager sunbathing in the gentle breeze of Clear Day, a black hole of tender feelings in the delicate madrigal of Around My Smile. A few songs are orchestrated like mini-symphonies of painful romance (the "waltz, dub and harmonica" shuffle of On the Low, the twangy and dreamy Lose Me On The way).
Throughout the album, Sandoval sings like a cross between Stevie Nicks and Kendra Smith, or, better, like a duet in paradise between Tim Buckley and Nico.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Malvina Ferrari)

Il primo album solista di Hope Sandoval, Bavarian Fruit Bread (Rough Trade, 2001 - Nettwerk, 2011) evidenzia gli arrangiamenti del multi-strumentista Colm O'Ciosoig dei precedenti My Bloody Valentine. Alcune canzoni somigliano alla magica atmosfera di Mazzy Star (Feeling of Gaze, Around My Smile, On the Low, Clear Day), altre sono orchestrate come mini-sinfonie di grande romanticismo (Lose Me On The way, Baby Let Me). Sandoval sembra cantare come un incrocio tra Kendra Smith, o meglio come un duetto paradisiaco tra Tim Buckley e Nico.

Hope Sandoval's Through The Devil Softly (Nettwerk, 2009), mostly co-written with Colin O Ciosoig of My Bloody Valentine, is another magical journey by a melancholy chanteuse. However, the songs do not stand up on their own as on the previous album, and the work is more about the mood and atmosphere than about any specific moment.

Mazzy Star's Seasons of Your Day (2013), coming 17 years after their previous album, is surprisingly (and nostalgically) similar in sound, drenched in the same sweet melancholy. The organ-driven Dylan-ian In the Kingdom is the highlight. The music almost disappears in the psychedelic vapors of Common Burn, The chamber-pop of Seasons of Your Day and the country-pop of Lay Myself Down feel half-baked, but the Celtic-tinged Spoon and the distorted, seven-minute blues vertigo of Flying Low save the day.

Hope Sandoval joined forces with My Bloody Valentine's drummer Colm O'Ciosoig to form the Warm Inventions and record Until The Hunter (2016), an eclectic (or confused) work that runs the gamut from droning freak-folk (notably the sensual stupor of the nine-minute Into the Trees) to ghostly noir ballads like the Angelo Badalamenti-esque Trouble, and from humble folk laments like Hiking Song to angelic country lullabies like The Peasant. Along the way one has to swallow the psychedelic blues of Liquid Lady and a tedious seven-minute duet with Kurt Vile (Let Me Get There) as well as other songs that spoil the magic of the songs that do work.

David Roback died in 2020.

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