Mazzier Than Ever

The first time I saw Hope Sandoval, she was a smudge on the TV. It was Mazzy Star performing “Fade Into You” for MTV’s 120 Minutes. It was the early 90s, a time when MTV aired in a UHF channel that perpetually aired grainy music videos that seemed always destined to be old. I had no idea then that it would age like Benjamin Button 19 years later, looking crisper than I remember with all the grains ironed out.

Youtube will never stop being amazing for someone who grew up in the dark ages, yet it will also never cease to unsettle, the way it stubbornly replaces the warm dreaminess of your memory with the plainness of reality. I somehow remember Hope Sandoval looking a lot more drugged than she apparently was. Specifically, I remember her eyes scanning the studio crazily, which the actual video clearly refutes because we almost never see her eyes.

But memories are ultimately never about what actually happened – they are only about what happened to you. We don’t remember the accurate details of moments; only what those moments ultimately mean to us. And 1994 Hope Sandoval was the first time I’ve ever found darkness sexy. “Fade Into You” was my jam in the fall of ’94, not that we have fall in the Philippines, but my consciousness certainly did. I kept playing it from October, through sem-break and November despite not having a tape of So Tonight That I Might See until a year later, but I didn’t need to – it was already playing in my head, echoing through the dim chambers of my pubescence, my moping sanctuary.

Seeing that video confirmed everything I thought about Mazzy Star’s music – the airy Halloween fogginess hovering over this ghostly beauty. Seeing Hope Sandoval for the first time, or her grainy ghost, left my mind in a dizzy spell, trying to fill in the haze with my own fuzziness.

So it’s kinda tough to see Hope Sandoval - in full digital, cold clarity - looking so old all of a sudden.

I’m not a lookist (or at least not consciously more than the average person, since we’re all really subconsciously lookist) or an ageist (see: my continuous infatuation with Neko Case and Susan Sarandon) in any way. What I am, though, is a memorist. Mazzy Star, more than any 90s band making a comeback over the last few years, operates primarily like a hazy memory, mainly because their music sounds like one. “Fade Into You”, their most popular song, was never a number one hit, yet it remains one of the most enduring tunes from the 90s just by constantly echoing in our psyche like a recurring dream. It never sounded old or dated. It's just always there, omnipresent and invisible, like ether.

Listening to their new album, Seasons of Your Day, makes the image of an older Hope Sandoval even more jarring. Not only has her voice not aged one smidge, but this album also happens to be Mazzy Star’s best. It's Mazzy Star at their mazziest.

What hurt the band’s status among the 90s cult was that missing iconic album that could double as proof of their greatness and shorthand for the era’s supposed superiority, like say, a Slanted and Enchanted, or Rid of Me, or even a Copacetic - She Hangs Brightly, So Tonight That I Might See, and Among My Swan just don’t evoke the same kind of reverence. What they have, however, is a tiny wall of great singles – the aforementioned “Fade Into You”, “Flowers in December”, “Halah”, and “Blue Flower” – which only highlight the unevenness of their albums. Every so often, when I find myself missing Mazzy Star, I pop one of their CDs only to find myself increasingly disillusioned for the next hour (they had a habit of loading their best songs at the front end). While I have stopped doing that over the past few years, their truly great songs remain in my go-to playlists (“Fade Into You” can be found in 3 playlists named “Hickory Smoke”, “Adolescence Lost”, and “Unsatisfied”; and in one mix CD entitled “Sad Bastard Music”, which also features “Take Everything” from Among My Swan). My impression of their music has therefore improved over time. Yet, while my memory of Mazzy Star may have been altered by technology once again, it is now rendered in the same selective incompleteness from which it was originally formed. Mythology ver. 2.0.

In Seasons of Your Day, Mazzy Star finally sounds like the Mazzy Star I always wanted to hear, the Mazzy Star I always imagined myself hearing. It’s the kind of record you could describe as “vintage Mazzy Star” if you never bothered to sit down and actually listen to their three previous albums in full. It’s as if the band itself, in the space of 17 years, reconstructed their music on foggy memory.

I always found Mazzy Star’s propensity for sub-zero coldness frustrating. I attributed this to David Roback, mainly because my love for Hope Sandoval was blinding, but also partly because he was the chief sonic architect of the band. This was confirmed when Hope finally went solo with her Warm Inventions project and recorded one my most beloved albums of the last decade – Bavarian Fruit Bread. Finally detoxed of Roback’s bad-trip psychedelia, Hope’s voice soared and hit the ear like a warm, damp kiss. You can’t even describe the experience as “eargasm” – just plain orgasm.

Seasons of Your Day sounds like a Sandoval-Roback collaboration more than a Mazzy Star record, which is the best thing that could ever happen to the Mazzy Star sound. I like that Roback saw the darkness in Hope's effortlessly melodic voice years ago, but as much as I enjoy the wrist-slitting charm of "All Your Sisters" and "Mary of Silence", I feel like her voice - with those moaning, slithering crescendos - was always meant for songs like "Common Burn" and "I've Gotta Stop". They showcase Hope in all her unencumbered beauty, which never ages as long as it stays in the dream logic of her music. I’m utterly convinced, as I type this, that Seasons of Your Day is the greatest Mazzy Star album of all time. This may very well be hyperbole caused by a still ongoing time-travel high (previously felt with My Bloody Valentine’s mbv earlier this year), but I’m not really big on objectivity right now, or things like clarity and being right. That’s the job of music criticism – to tell it like it is, to rate an album’s musical merits. I’m more interested in the haze, the smudge, the narrow keyhole through which childhood views all music. I want – no, need – to keep listening this way.


dejarenay said...

You expect a woman to look exactly the same in her 40's and she did 20 years ago in he 20's?
20 years have passed. I am sure you don't look the same as you did 20 years ago. Having said that to me Hope looks pretty good for a woman in her late 40's. Not that it should matter either way. Only talent-less people need to worry about how they look.

Carrie Kelly said...

unfortunately we all get old. including you, and i have no idea that you look anything near as beautiful as she does now. And you never will. Yes, it's her haunting, beautiful, slithering melodic tones and tunes-no matter what folks she has worked with- she adds warmth and beauty of life-no matter how painful that may be to you. So, get used to it.

Carine Esnault said...

Certainly Ms. Sandoval's being nice to look at, all those years ago, had generated much of the public's interest in Mazzy Star in the early '90s, but many woman of the age she is now wish that they could look as attractive as she "still" does.

Compare her comportment, back then, to the singing lap-dancers of today, and she is due some credit for some constraint in having had her attractiveness exploited

Jason Harris said...

You say you're not an agist or a lookist, then proceed to prove you are both of those things as well as shallow.

Tina Banda said...

It would be nice to read a review about a female musician that didn't also include a review of her physical appearance, but perhaps I'm expecting too much.



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