Monday, September 23, 2013

ruminations: mazzy star- 'seasons of your day'

After a long wait, it’s finally here—the first Mazzy Star album in 17 years. The ‘Common Burn’ single came out early last year, there was a lengthy string of promising live shows on the West Coast and in Europe, a brief silence followed by an announcement and now ‘Seasons of Your Day’ is here. How does it stack up to their other three albums? I’m not sure because I've always had trouble comparing ‘She Hangs Brightly,’ ‘So Tonight That I Might See’ and ‘Among My Swan.’ I’m having a similar problem with this one, which to me is as good of a sign as I could hope for.

Similar to the new my bloody valentine, ‘Seasons of Your Day’ fits seamlessly in with the previous three Mazzy Star albums—it sounds almost as though no time has passed. The band sound as vital as ever, the record has a comforting familiarity but manages to put a few new subtle spins on their well-established sound. It’s a lighter affair as well—there’s nothing to match the murky darkness of ‘Among My Swan’ tracks like ‘Umbilical,’ ‘Roseblood’ or ‘Look On Down From the Bridge.’ Based on the tracklisting that was released, the firmly acoustic-based sound of the ‘Common Burn’ single and ‘California’ I was expecting a really stripped-down affair. ‘In the Kingdom’ dashed my expectations immediately with it’s breathy organ swells under Dave Roback’s melodic leads that alternate between picked notes and elegant slide work. Hope Sandoval’s vocal has a clarity that is difficult to match in the rest of the band’s output or in her solo work—her lyrics are crystal clear and straightforward, the melody is bright and lightly adorned with reverb. It ties in nicely with the sparse nature of the track—instrumentally it’s very spare but each part gains a lot of weight and warmth with the space that it’s allowed to exist in. When Sandoval’s vibraphone enters during the closing stretch it’s the final ingredient that makes the track radiate a warmth that’s practically glowing. Roback dialed down the reverb for the most part on these tracks and has opted for more of a natural room type of sound—this can be heard in the miking techniques he uses on the guitar in tracks like ‘I’ve Gotta Stop.’ ‘Does Someone Have Your Baby Now?’ piles the reverb back onto Roback’s acoustic guitar, but the track is so minimal and built so slowly that the wet atmospherics enhance the sounds like they’re supposed to rather than make them more difficult to decipher. ‘I don’t wanna get it on with you,’ Sandoval croons in the way that only she can over and over again so hypnotically. ‘Common Burn’ and ‘Lay Myself Down’ are broken up with the title track, which sounds like a sunnier sibling to ‘Among My Swan’s ‘All Your Sisters.’

‘Does Someone Have Your Baby Now’ and ‘Sparrow’ can both be found on bootlegs from the band’s European tour in the summer of 2000 before their lengthy hiatus. On these bootlegs they are presented as just acoustic guitar and voice tracks. Having lived with them in that arrangement for so long I’d always had trouble figuring how they would’ve been fleshed out for the record that was planned for release at around that time—it’s refreshing to hear that Roback has opted to keep their minimalism intact while managing to add some more subtle colours to their finished form. ‘Spoon’ was presented in a similar way on the band’s tour last year. Here it features a guest performance from the late Bert Jansch. Roback and Jansch play off of each other with a locked-in beauty that is haunting and urgent—underscored by the fact that this is one of Jansch’s final recorded performances before his passing. The track consists of nothing more than the two acoustic guitars and Sandoval’s voice. It’s a shame that the song will never be performed live with him.

‘Flyin’ Low’ is another song that was performed on the band’s tour last year. In it’s recorded form it sounds raw and bluesy—like a more laid back ‘Sticky Fingers’-era Rolling Stones jam. Live it’s a powerhouse—I’m most familiar with the recording from their Coachella appearance last year (it’s absolutely ferocious). I’ve heard people say that Mazzy Star were never a great live band, but I’d offer that live version of this song as evidence to the contrary. On the album Sandoval maintains the cooing softness that she’s known for, but live she lets loose with a bit of grit in her voice that works perfectly for the song. It’s a shame that the power of the track isn’t more on display on the album version. I do like the bluesy sound treatment on the guitar, though, as well as the taut drum sound. It reminds me a bit of ‘Come Down Easy’ by Spacemen 3 in this form as well.

It’s such a relief to hear this record after such a long wait. There were rumors that there would be a new Mazzy Star album in 2010. Like the new my bloody valentine record it’s released on the band’s own label and retains the fire of all of the band’s past work while allowing it to evolve naturally. The flipside of such turbulent times in the current musical climate is that a few bands have managed to come out in a better position than they were in during their 90s heyday. Self-reliance at their level is always going to yield the best results. I’m very excited to finally get to see them live in November (yes, like my bloody valentine they’re playing in Chicago in November) and hear more from them in the future.

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