By Eleni P. Austin
Who waits 17 years between records? Mazzy Star, that’s who! The core of Mazzy Star is Los Angeles native David Roback and Hope Sandoval. Back in the early ‘80s, Roback was one of the architects of the Paisley Underground scene. Fronting The Rain Parade, he made one perfect record, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, before leaving the band.
Although The Rain Parade continued without him, Roback formed Opal with ex-Dream Syndicate bassist/vocalist Kendra Smith. After a handful of demos (later released as “Early Recordings), Opal released their perfect debut, Happy Nightmare Baby in 1987. But Smith abruptly left the band in the midst of a tour.
Hope Sandoval grew up in East L.A., the youngest of 10 kids. A fan of the nascent Paisley scene, Sandoval paired up with Sylvia Gomez as the duo Going Home. David Roback produced their (as yet unreleased) album. When Kendra Smith ditched Opal, Hope Sandoval was able to step in and finish the tour, and Mazzy Star was born.
By 1990, Mazzy Star released their first effort, She Hangs Brightly through the British indie label, Rough Trade. The album was a sharp distillation of swirly ‘60s psychedelia and the decadent ennui of the Velvet Underground. (R.I.P. Lou Reed). Sandoval’s laconic vocals were the perfect foil for Roback’s minimal backing vocals and reverb-drenched guitar.
The Rock cognoscenti completely embraced She Hangs Brightly. Rough Trade folded and Mazzy Star was signed to Capitol Records. Their sophomore effort, So Tonight That I Might See, was released in late 1993. The lead off track, “Fade Into You” was an enormous hit, catapulting the band into the Top 40. That song continues to resonate, popping up in pivotal scenes in movies and TV shows like “C.S.I.” and “Desperate Housewives.”
Among My Swan was Mazzy Star’s third album and it came out in 1996. And then……nothing.
Although there was no new music from Mazzy Star, there was never a definitive break up announcement. Roback busied himself composing movie scores. By 2002, Sandoval was splitting her time between Northern California and Ireland. Her side project, Hope Sandoval and The Warm Inventions recorded two albums, Bavarian Fruit Bread and Through The Devil Softly.
In late 2011, with minimal fanfare, Mazzy Star released a two-sided single, “Common Burn”/”Lay Myself Down.” KCRW played the crap out of both songs. As suddenly as the band disappeared, they were back. Anticipation for the forthcoming album increased when they played a few select live dates and two Coachella sets in 2012.
Now nearly two years after the release of the single, Mazzy Star has finally released their fourth album, Seasons Of Your Day. True to form, the album gets off to a slow start with the opener, “In The Kingdom.”
Church-y organ runs collide with a cascade of Roback’s bespoke guitar notes. The track is as trippy and familiar as a shimmery mirage. Sandoval’s lyrics are laid back but welcoming … “If all is right in the kingdom tonight, You know we’ll play songs in this town.”
The 2011 singles, “Common Burn” and “Lay Myself Down” are included here. On the former, Sandoval’s vocals are hypnotic as she limns the heartbreak of unrequited love. The instrumentation is moody and elegant. Roback’s fret work blends a series of acoustic and electric filigrees, as a soaring harmonica fills glide overhead.
The latter is a loping cowpoke symphony. Jangly guitar riffs and a lonesome pedal steel intertwine. Sandoval is elusive and cryptic, offering up opaque statements like “Would I forget laying myself down just to regret and that’s all.”
Four tracks, “California,” “I’ve Gotta Stop,” “Sparrow” and “Seasons Of Your Day,” completely envelope the listener in a rich sonic tapestry. “California” is a pastoral paean to the band’s home state. Ethereal acoustic riffs and a light dusting of keys cushion Sandoval’s elliptical tribute… “I think I hear the whisper of an old best friend, I think I hear the bells ringing in the square.”
On “I’ve Gotta Stop” Roback’s clarion riffs meander through a desultory melody, underpinning Sandoval’s angst. Resolving to end an unhealthy relationship she remains hesitant…… “I’ve gotta stop making you stay, I’ve gotta know you’d never say those words aren’t meant to be thrown/ But when you’re weakened in my arms shining….”
“Sparrow” is dusty lo-fi shuffle. The rattlesnake shake percussion, along with Roback’s sidewinder riffs anchor the melody. Both surrender the spotlight making way for sprightly Harpsichord fills. The mood suddenly shifts from country comfort to Elizabethan elegance.
Finally, the title track is swathed in a crushed-velvet groove. Layers of cello and acoustic guitar echo the somber melancholy of Nick Drake. Sandoval’s typically laconic vocals mask the urgency of her words… “Won’t you let me come inside, I’ve released all of my pride.”
Other interesting tracks include the bluesy tone poem, “Does Someone Have Your Baby Now” along with the ghostly “Spoon”which features Bert Jansch. The late Scottish musician has influenced artists as disparate as Elton John, Led Zeppelin, Johnny Marr and Fleet Foxes. His sitar-like guitar adds a prickly patina.
The album closes with the bittersweet bottle-neck blues of “Flying Low.” Powered by a kick-drum rhythm and spiky guitar chords, Sandoval offers up some hard won wisdom… “Right now you got your life in your hands, you spent your simple days counting them down.”
Aside from Hope Sandoval and David Roback, these days Mazzy Star consists of longtime cohorts Suki Ewers on keys and William Cooper Glenn on violin. Newer members include ex-My Bloody Valentine bassist Colm O’ Ciosoig, drummer Keith Mitchell and Josh Yenne on pedal steel.
Apparently Sandoval and Roback have been writing and recording all along. Sandoval was recently quoted as saying they were finally “really in the mood to release music.” Like a sullen Sonny & Cher, or (at the very least), a new millennial Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra, the music of Mazzy Star still has the power to seduce. All they require from their fans is patience.