Thursday, November 3, 2011

ruminations: mazzy star- 'common burn' single etc.

On the occasion of Mazzy Star's long overdue return with their new single from their forthcoming album I began this entry without having heard the whole thing. On my commute home on Monday night I threw on the band's 1996 album 'Among My Swan' which is the last proper album of new music from the band for reference/reverence. I'll probably listen to the album's worth of as-of-yet largely unreleased songs from an audience recording of the band's last tour in 2000 in copenhagen, denmark at the legendary club löppen. On this tour the band played a set comprised mostly of new stripped-down, probably unfinished but also ridiculously beautiful new material. Of those seven songs only one has seen release on Hope Sandoval's beautiful second solo record with her band The Warm Inventions, 2009's 'Through the Devil Softly.' That would be 'For the Rest of Your Life' and in a very different form from what is heard on the Löppen bootleg. Since hearing these recordings back in 2005 or 2006 I've always been curious as to whether they would ever see release, however, since the new single is two songs that aren't present on this Löppen recording it almost makes me wonder if I want these mostly acoustic live tracks to ever see a proper release as they are so gorgeous as they are and, from what I've heard on the new single, it sounds like they've moved on from them anyway.

'Among My Swan' is an album that I've owned since its release and I remember being largely alone amongst my friends in even knowing it had been released. Despite the fanfare surrounding 'Fade Into You' the follow-up album somehow managed to fall through the cracks despite what a dramatically huge step forward it was from 'So Tonight That I Might See.' One can only imagine the fight they had to put up to get it released. Without a 'suitable follow-up single' the songs run a huge gamut from acoustic softness a la 'Flowers in December,' the starkness of the haunting reverb-drenched 'All Your Sisters,' the heavily-vibed 'Roseblood' to the unparalleled tone poem 'Umbilical' all leading up to the crushingly desolate closer 'Look On Down From the Bridge' (which remains one of my favourite songs ever). I remember using 'Look On Down From the Bridge' as the closing song for a play I wrote in high school called 'Soon'- one day I had to sub for the actor doing the final monologue before it played and becoming so overwhelmed that I had to go for a long walk through the empty halls of my high school in its after-hours darkness. It's a poignant memory that could only be one from when I was 17. It was a time when I was in over my head emotionally to the point where even I was unaware of how much trouble I was in- it was a premonition of a depression that spiraled out of control once I left home for Columbia College here in Chicago. I would not bathe or was my clothes for weeks at a time, spent most of my time along wallowing in endless regret and guilt. I wasn't able to pull myself out of it until I was 19 and found, to my horror, that I'd retreated back to Kansas City from where I really wanted to be and was now stuck there. Not to mention how many new friends I'd met who tried to help me see ways to pull myself out and how they'd given up when I'd stubbornly refused to listen to them. There was even a possible relationship in there that I ruined. Goodbyes that were never said. Feelings that were never expressed, or reciprocated. It's a lot for a five minute song to dredge up, but that is what 'Look On Down From the Bridge' does.

Ironically these feelings of regret and longing for one of those 'one that got away' type of feelings is what 'Common Burn' is about. I definitely feel the common burn when I listen to 'Among My Swan.' Stylistically, 'Common Burn' sounds about how one would expect- it sounds like Dave Roback playing on one of the drumless acoustic tracks from 'Through the Devil Softly' (think 'Lady Jessica and Sam' meets the lead guitars from 'Disappear'). What is most interesting to me about it is how it sounds and feels like a 50/50 collaboration between Sandoval and Roback- the guitars were clearly playing by Roback and the recording bears his production stamp, but Sandoval obviously played the vibraphone, harmonica and tambourine in addition to her singing. Previously it seemed as though she would mostly sing and add a few percussive flourishes to a song that Roback had already built from the ground up (which even feels like the case with something like 'Give You my Lovin' off of 'She Hangs Brightly'- the two chord song had been written and conceived by Sandoval, but Roback fleshed the whole thing out in a way that only he could). 'Lay Myself Down' is the one of the two that sounds the most like older Mazzy Star. It has all of the hallmarks, but with an additional country vibe that Mazzy Star never fully explored. I suppose really what I mean here is that there is a very present and effective pedal steel. All told these are two very promising songs that are hopefully the precursors to even more new ground covered. The likelihood that I will listen to these songs fifteen years down the road and have them transport me right back to this incredibly trying time is very high. This is strangely comforting to me.

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