by Nick McGuire (@nickemcguire)
Hope Sandoval always lends herself to intimacy. With her work in Mazzy Star, her on-stage performances in almost near darkness, and especially her warbling, untethered voice, I always think Sandoval is singing directly to me. When I hear her, I think we are walking down a street as she flits between thoughts, searching for the right words, but never quite hitting them. She spins her stories, and wintery noises jangle around us. Often I don’t understand her words or what she’s really trying to get at, but how she shares them transcends that. It’s something I can get behind even if it makes no sense to me.
A good way to describe Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions’ new EP Son of a Lady is atmospheric meanderings. “Sleep,” for example, lacks basic percussion. Delayed guitar strums that churn like lazy helicopter blades are the closest the song comes to a defined beat. While a few lyrics stand out on this song, such as “Sleep, sleep / until you don’t feel alone” for the most part you get lost in the music, especially when the glockenspiel plays its sparse melodies.
The lyrics are secondary to a continuous mood that builds and builds throughout the songs. Sandoval’s voice hovers slightly out of center. Instead of telling a story, she colors it. Sometimes that is an example of boring music, but Sandoval’s accomplice, My Bloody Valentine’s drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig, is an impressive producer who knows when and when not to play. Ó Cíosóig’s instrumentation creates subtle landscapes that interact with Sandoval. While on past albums her voice was the centerpiece, I admire the direction this album takes towards making it another instrument as directionless and ethereal as the rest.
Ó Cíosóig is especially good at adding more instruments until, like a wave, the song breaks in catharsis. The standout example is “Antiquity,” which clocks in at 7 minutes. The first half is normal enough until Sandoval’s voice drops out around the 2:30 mark. The drums never leave their machine gun beat, but as the guitar angers and the harmonica imitates voices, you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, looking out over the ocean with the wind in your face. This wall of sound grows louder and stronger for 4 minutes before it drops off, shaking into silence. It’s the sort of end that you think will never come, and when it does your whole body is filled with so much raw energy that you have expanded. I haven’t been hit that hard in months.
Another brilliant track is “Son of a Lady.” With creaky strings and mellow synths, it exercises a creepiness only Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions can give. Lyrics like, “you locked all your doors that day / and sound no reply” are plain spooky. I wouldn’t play this at a baby shower, but in an empty house? Absolutely. I mean to say that Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions are fit for certain moods, specifically the basement introspection that the National and Feist are known for. Sandoval has spent 20 years crafting a particular sound that her acolytes (Lana del Rey, Beach House to name a few) happily wear on their sleeves. She may never stray from it again, and those expecting something as poppy as her major hit “Fade Into You” with Mazzy Star will be disappointed, but this EP is another notch on a brilliant legacy. I recommend it to anyone trying to feel something in the dark.