Monday, May 6, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On #81 - Mazzy Star - So Tonight That I Might See

There is a famous quote attributed to Brian Eno that goes something like: “Only 100 people bought the first Velvet Underground record, but they all started bands.” This quote makes reference to the hypnotic qualities of that wonderful album, but doesn’t go into the people who bought it. Mazzy Star mastermind David Roback must have been one of them, because he takes many of The Velvet Underground’s greatest accomplishments and gives them a spit-shine for the MTV generaton. Mazzy Star’s basic features were Roback’s sumptuous, spacious arrangements produced with all the echo and fuzzed out guitars you could possibly want, however all of it was to frame the 9th wonder of the world: singer Hope Sandoval’s make-you-weak-in-the-knees voice.

“So Tonight That I Might See” is Mazzy Star’s second album and contains their only accidental hit “Fade Into You” which caught on and the video got quite a bit of play. That does not alter the fact that Mazzy Star were strictly an underground band making fairly non-commercial psychedelic music in an age that encouraged hair metal and synth pop. It was from that environment that Mazzy Star came forth with songs sculpted from fed- back guitars, ominous organ undertones and Sandoval’s controlled and beautiful voice. Except for one cover (Love’s contemplative “Five String Serenade”) all the songs are original compositions showing off the natural synergy Roback achieved by letting the vocal remain the star at the very center of every song. When given a natural talent this profound, the test of the band- leader and producer is largely to get out of the way and create backgrounds that are sympathetic to her gift. Which isn’t to say that Mazzy Star is in anyway minimalist, because they created some of the richest psych beds for Sandoval’s voice to lay on since The Doors stepped aside for Jim Morrison’s equally scene-stealing voice.

Roback came about his sensibilities as part of L.A.’s “Paisley Underground” movement of the early 80’s. He was a founding member of Rain Parade, Rainy Day and Opal before discovering Hope Sandoval (a Rain Parade fan) and offering to produce her. What followed was a classic rock and roll Pygmalion story with the two players weaving in and out of each other’s lives seemingly forever. In 2011 and 20112 Mazzy Star released a single and played a handful of gigs, raising hope that they would finish their long-promised fourth album and resume touring for the faithful. Like all periods of their career it has come in fits and starts with no resolution on the horizon. In the meantime we have their first three albums to content us, “So Tonight That I Might See” being the most immediately rewarding with Sandoval’s vocal powers reaching new heights on masterpieces like the tough-edged “Wasted” the icy “Mary Of Silence” and what could be her finest performance on record, the slow, darkly haunting “Into Dust.” Roback delicately picks acoustic guitar with a subtle string arrangement behind him, and Hope Sandoval gives one of the most hauntingly controlled vocal performances I’ve ever heard. It is as powerful as it is delicate.

The title track ends the album in what can only be called a tribute to The Velvet Underground with a droning guitar and a marching beat under Sandoval hypnotically intoning lyrics as if in a trance. The song concludes 7 minutes later in a hail of squealing guitar notes. The album strikes a perfect balance between familiar sounds and some misty new land, finding a place that is nostalgic yet totally fresh. If we are lucky, Sandoval and Roback will find their way to this place again and continue their journey, if not they have left some fantastic evidence that they existed.
-Paul Epstein

No comments: