The Wind Will Carry Us
On On the Love Beach, the debut album for psychedelic Japanese husband/wife duo Nagisa Ni Te, the wife half, Masako Takeda, was credited on the album credits only with playing "wind." If you'll quell your schoolboy snickers, what this really meant was that Shinji Shibayama was enshrining his wife, his muse, as a 'member' of the band before she played anything (on subsequent albums, her vocal/instrumental contributions would be much more tangible). For Shibayama, this initial honor seemed obvious: she was, simply, the one who let his musical spirit soar.
Though she was often considered some sharply-cheekboned ingenue during her early days in Mazzy Star, Hope Sandoval was never anyone's muse. Her partner in Mazzy Star crime, David Roback, always insisted that her contributions went far beyond being merely the face/voice of the duo; that she was as much a student of the studio as he.
Solo, as Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions, she's shown herself as songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer; first on 2001's Bavarian Fruit Bread and, now, here, with Through the Devil Softly. But it almost feels as if Sandoval's presence could be distilled to "wind"; that her voice, in its every lilt and exhalation, might be best billed as breeze.
Hearing her singing ripple gently through the aching, sunbaked landscape of Through the Devil Softly is to hear each vocal zephyr breathe life into every instrument it rolls over; Sandoval's presence seeming, at times, as imperceptible as wind, visible only in the way flutters the leaves on the trees.
In the Sphere of Atmosphere
I could run with the metaphor forever —or draw the theme out further by mentioning the literal breeze actually audible on eerie closer "Satellite," or the way Sandoval softly intones "And how, love, does the wind blow? While we sleep away our days?" on "There's a Willow"— but the idea is simply this: Sandoval isn't a singer, but a creator of atmospheres. Her voice has the timbral, textural qualities of dangling guitar reverb, or a held down note on a droning chord organ. It's not about the notes, or the words, but more an evocation of pure sound; a cloud hanging there, in the air, lingering.
With her voice as its defining quality, Through the Devil Softly is, of course, an atmospheric work: "For the Rest of Your Life" snaking and coiling like a stream of smoke; "Fall Aside"'s thrums of autoharp, woodblock clacks, and meandering banjo sent into a spiral of echo worthy of Phil Spector.
That's no great surprise given that her chief Warm Inventions collaborateur, boyfriend Colm Ó Cíosóig, was once part of My Bloody Valentine's thickly-foggy wall of sound; given that Mazzy Star's psychedelic, slow-motion blues was washed out into something approximating classic-rock drowning in an opiate haze.
Yet, where Roback often seemed like he was out to fill stadiums, Sandoval, as band leader, keeps a sense of genuine restraint. Things, on Softly, are atmospheric and moody, but remarkably uncluttered.
There's none of the brittle, gamine folk found on Bavarian Fruit Bread; nothing that ever sets Sandoval's singing against a singular instrument. But there's still ample, aching room to move; the record —and Sandoval's production aesthetic— symbolized by something like "Thinking Like That." Its five indolent minutes give empty space the sonic central position, with twin fingerpicked guitar-lines pushed to either fringe; one on the edge of the left speaker, the other the right.
And there, but almost not, slipping and gliding through the emptiness, is Sandoval's voice, ever-present but always elusive. Like the wind, it can be felt on a bodily level, but never grasped; its sound bound, no matter how hard you try to hold onto it, to forever slip through your fingers.
Record Label: Nettwerk
Release Date: September 29, 2009