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Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions “Through the Devil Softly” Review

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Few things have remained more consistent over the last twenty years than the music of Hope Sandoval. While we were entering the computer age, watching reality TV and eating Freedom Fries, she was a bastion of immutability—first with Opal, then Mazzy Star, and now the Warm Inventions. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing as she has a voice that will sound as timeless 10 years from now as it did back in the 1990s. Her vocal spectrum really only ranges from sultry breathiness to breathy sultriness, but it’s a gorgeous whisper that is all slow sex and melancholy jazz. I mean, the girl could sing a Kool Keith song and make it sound sensual and tender. Now she is teaming up again with former My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig to release Through the Devil Softly (coming almost exactly eight years after their last effort, the fantastic Bavarian Fruit Bread). While Devil is perhaps a little more folk than the Paisley Underground influenced dream pop of Sandoval’s yesteryear, longtime fans need not worry that she is heading in any radical new direction. The new material is a long overdue continuation of her very distinct slow-fuzz sound.

The record succeeds the most when Sandoval’s bluesy constancy is paired with backing instrumentation that is inspired as well as mindful not to overwhelm the fragile songs. Ó Cíosóig’s deft touch on the guitar is noticeable, as is that of the Irish backing band Dirt Blue Gene which also accompanies many of the tracks. Sandoval’s generally forlorn lyricism is complemented by the sparingly minimalist instrumentation, giving weight and heft to each track’s sparse arrangements. “Thinking Like That” weaves delicate classical guitar over a barely audible vibraphone and very minimal percussion. Halfway in, Mazzy Star guest cellist Ji Young Moon adds some melancholy strings and brings the song home with a moody undertow. On the other side of the page, tracks like the opener “Blanchard” attempt for the same type of template but aren’t quite catchy enough to get by on simply repeating the same chords over and over.

hope sandoval 2009 promo
[uncredited photo via Hope Sandoval]

As a whole Devil never really hits on all cylinders until the album reaches its eighth track, “Trouble,” a roadhouse ballad of bottomless sorrow straight out of the Chan Marshall catalog. “Trouble” brings with it a more fleshed out sound, complete with steady percussion and mournful slide guitar. The vocals are also fuzzed out to the point where it’s like hearing them through an alcoholic fog. “Satellite” removes the singing a step further by filtering it through an effects mic that makes it sound as if it’s coming out of a gramophone the next room over. While the tune’s guitar plucking is barely even there, there’s some wobbly keyboarding to carry the melody, as well as the delicate sounds of waves breaking on the surf. It’s the album’s best track and closes it out on a high (if extremely depressing) note.

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Also: Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions @ Music Box


3 Comments

    Hope Sandoval was not in Opal. Kendra Smith was Opal’s singer.

  • I know absolutely nothing about either Hope, nor Opal, but this tweaked my curiosity…

    “Happy Nightmare Baby, Opal’s first full-length album, was released in 1987. Smith left the group during the Happy Nightmare tour, storming off-stage half-way through their gig in Hammersmith, UK, effectively putting an end to the band. Roback continued with vocalist Hope Sandoval, playing shows as Opal and planning an album to be titled Ghost Highway but in 1989 this band became Mazzy Star and Ghost Highway was presumably released as She Hangs Brightly.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opal_%28band%29

  • I have just been at the ‘Through the Devil Softly’ concert in Melbourne, Australia. At this gig I was confronted with a range of emotions. Within seconds of her singing I was almost brought to tears with the shear beauty of her voice. This emotion was soon to be soured with one of disappointment, as 1 third of the way through the 4th or 5th song (I think it was Bluebird), Hope walked off stage followed by her bemused bandmates (who followed her to “sort out the problem”). 15 minutes later they returned with Hope giving an apology about sound issues, to play another 2 songs which seemed to be delivered with a very minimum of enthusiasm, before ending the concert. Within the first song this was gig was shaping up to be one of those concerts that affect you for the rest of week and stick in your memory for a lifetime. However the magic was totally killed by the time she returned back to stage.
    All in all, could have been amazing but ended up being a really disappointing experience.

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