Review Summary: The power of mesmerizing silence."People don't change!"
Now while I certainly am afraid that I'm going to get sued by whoever owns the rights to Gregory House quotes these days, I just couldn't resist using it, simply because it is so much closer to the truth than to complete rubbish. Looking at it, it rather seems like we all develop certain traits in our youth and carry them with us for the rest of our life. What changes is the environment and with one adapting to it the intensity in which these traits reveal themselves.
Now with musicians and their work it isn't all that different. All the necessary talent, interests and preferences are there at the very beginning of their career, it is just the environment, the influences, the trends that change things. For US duo Mazzy Star that meant a very subtle transformation, abandoning most of their psychedelic shoegaze sound and alter it into the more focused, more conventional folk rock of "Among My Swan"
Now it's definitely up to interpretation if that shift was actually an improvement or not, depending on which side of the band one liked so far. But without any doubt it managed to lay the focus on some of their most worthwhile traits. Mainly that’s the indescribably great voice of Hope Sandoval. Whatever David Roback did in the background, it was her performance, both dreamy and damn gloomy, that made them them. With the stripped down nature of their third LP that quality is more apparent than ever and it doesn't take long to hear that it works beautifully. Ok, opener Disappear
might be a little bit too much of a lukewarm re-hash of hit single Fade Into You
. Yet it is only the first step to introduce you to the nice world of fully embraced calmness and reduction.
Subsequently it is on Flowers In December
to establish how great that concept can work out. Sandoval only backed by laid-back percussion and simple acoustic riffs, augmented by dolce strings and perfectly interlaced harmonica passages. In simple terms it is just one hell of a great song, bridging the gap between romance and mellow gravity. It's exactly that emotional core that makes "Among My Swan"
the record it is: Peaceful songs about not exactly peaceful situations. As calm as most of these tracks seem, Sandovals deep vocals never stop to paint a picture of a depressed, burdened person, restless and tired at the same time. The slightly vengeful Cry, Cry
with its almost country-like guitar parts or the somber Take Everything
and its crunchy blues riffs, they all work that way and give the album a depth Mazzy Star only created sporadically on the predecessor.
Of course the more consistent sound is quite conducive to that. For the longest it is an album dominated by acoustic guitar and active, but still understated percussion. Together with the well-arranged string parts that adds up to songs stripped of any "unnecessary" noises, instead leaving room for silence and the sheer beauty of Sandovals voice to create songs like All Your Sisters
. And with that they are all reminiscent of Into Dust
, which is probably the most worthwhile of their songs one could use as an inspiration.
They do show another side though, a lighter one and certainly one closer to their early days. Sadly that is the one big mistake they make here. There's nothing wrong with the rather light-hearted I've Been Let Down
, showcasing traditional folk sounds along with some smooth piano parts, even if it isn't fully up to par with what preceded it. But it only starts what turns out to be a full-blown comeback of their psychedelic sound. And as much as one can enjoy Robacks guitar riffs or his trippy keyboard style, they aren't anything but an unwelcome distraction here. Happy
both fail to add anything to the album, instead they crush the dark, yet harmonious atmosphere Mazzy Star built up for two thirds of the record. While not bad songs per se, it is a shame that they - also including the lacklustre Roseblood
- ended up on such a cohesively great album, just to make you wonder what is going on all of a sudden.
At least one is kind of used to those songs, considering their first two records. Nevertheless they turn a potentially brilliant, haunting performance into one that is "just" great. It might still be their best, since they finally focus on those qualities that I personally found so endearing about them. Understated arrangements, still precisely played and woven together, paired with an amazing vocalist and her often cryptic, but nevertheless touching lyrics, overall creating a mixture that brings out the best in both David Roback and Hope Sandoval. It might be a slight disappointment to all those waiting for a continuation of their psychedelic endeavours, but ultimately "Among My Swan"
is touching and deep, full of songs worth losing yourself in.
- Flowers In December
- All Your Sisters
- Take Everything