Release Date: September 24, 2013
Label: Rhymes Of An Hour Records
Tracks On Repeat
1. In The Kingdom
2. California
3. Flying Low
8/10

Mazzy Star are back! Well back is, apparently, open to interpretation. According to guitarist David Roback in an interview with The Guardian they never actually stopped writing and recording, just never felt like putting anything out publicly. This is a strange and unusual approach; indicative of a band desperate not to muddy the legacy they left in the mid-90s. Not much more could be gleaned from that interview – the duo’s Q&A technique has not gotten any more verbose in the last seventeen years. Incredibly closed off, Roback and Hope Sandoval are infamous for putting up an impenetrable wall between themselves and the journalist – they make early Stone Roses interviews look wordier than a Will Self lecture. From the outside their timidity does seem to be genuine, a natural behavioural feature rather than recalcitrant arrogance or outright contempt for the press person.

But Seasons Of Your Day is here and feels like a natural progression from 1996’s Among My Swan. In his early years Roback was a member of neo-psychedelic bands Rain Parade and Opal (he was a major figure in the Paisley Underground scene in early 80s Los Angeles), a purveyor of guitar fuzz and heavy effects. But as his Mazzy Star project progressed Roback’s output became mellower and less pedal-focussed, forming soundscapes less dependent on the guitar, incorporating orchestral inflections and folk. Seasons Of Your Day is underpinned by folk, country and Americana, but of an English variety – owing more of a melancholic kindred to Nick Drake rather than to the typical American country sound, which tends to be chirpier. Ordinarily an album underpinned by country and Americana would be a major turn-off for me but the superlative riff-making and lithe production on display here redeem the nasal shitness that usually accompanies stuff from those genres. Like all Mazzy Star albums Seasons Of Your Day is forlorn and depressing, but who isn’t attracted to that kind of music.

The aspect of Mazzy Star that always stands head-and-shoulders above all else though is Sandoval’s voice. The first song ‘In The Kingdom’ is a perfect example of that: it’s just so damn refreshing to hear her luxurious nonchalance on new songs. She’s had many imitators but none can replicate her unique brand of coy timidity. The restrained production – oftentimes it’s more minimalistic than the lush arrangements of previous records – puts so much pressure on the strength and ethereal allure of Sandoval’s singing yet she carries it off so effortlessly. As I said earlier folk and Americana isn’t something I usually go for but there’s some elusive quality to her voice, a kind of hypnotising warmth that is both startlingly intimate and demurely aloof. It’s strange because the focus of my listening habits is usually centred on the music rather than the voice but with Hope Sandoval… everything revolves around her singing. It’s a quality that Roback, in his producer hat, has always been aware of and due praise must be laid at his feet – his Mazzy Star production has ever been a story of careful manipulation to maximise her presence.

The lead single ‘California’ concerns itself with social alienation, and the quixotic dreams of travelling to exotic faraway destinations, all set behind simple acoustic riffs of melancholy gold. ‘I’ve Gotta Stop’, ‘Does Someone Have Your Baby Now’ and ‘Common Burn’ are captivating cuts of acoustica with gentle layers of guitar and Sandoval’s harmonica playing. ‘Flying Low’ features more insistent vocal intonation, heavily reverbed country guitar yet the singing still cuts through like broken glass. It’s a kind of psych-country jam, in thrall to the reverb rocking away at its lusty centre.

The intimate emotions of Seasons Of Your Day seep together in quite a transient manner particularly in the slower tempo mid-section, not all that far removed from Among My Swan. Perhaps that’s not surprising – Roback has said that much of the record was penned as early as 1997 (Scottish folk legend Bert Jansch is credited as playing on ‘Spoon’, and he died in 2011). General opinion has been positive but criticisms have surrounded the close sonic kinship between Seasons Of Your Day and the earlier stuff. It’s difficult to truly argue with those observations but Roback and Sandoval are proving they are still experts at exploring slow-tempo atmospheric music.

Seasons Of Your Day came out the 24th September on Rhymes Of An Hour Records.

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