Like a chimera in languorous opposition to earthly indie-rock, Mazzy Star was a beguiling apparition in an age of grubby grunge. Touring rarely and dispensing three-yearly studio albums out of the blue, they were an enigma in an era that rewarded only rock’s growlers, grafters and insatiable self-promoters.
Though they wound up on Capitol Records, their one hit, ’93′s “Fade Into You,” only seemed to define their elusiveness, thanks to David Roback’s hazy acoustic strum and Hope Sandoval’s wispy vocal melody. Mazzy was the kind of band whose music might soundtrack an arty love scene in a Bertolucci movie (as it did in ’96′s Stealing Beauty). And then suddenly they were no more, as sultry Sandoval and gently psychedelic Roback, who were romantically involved in the beginning, went their separate ways.
In the intervening 17 years, their horizontally-inclined sound has become veritably iconic, “inspiring,” to say the least, boy/girl groups like Beach House. According to Roback, they’ve never stopped writing or recording, even while he now resides in Norway and she divides her time between San Francisco and rural Ireland. “We don’t really keep track of time,” she says.
Indeed, on their first record since ’96′s Among My Swan, time often seems to stand still. The magic of old lights up every track, but there’s plenty on Seasons Of Your Day that furthers the Mazzy brief. The album glides into “In the Kingdom” on near-church-y organ riff, Sandoval imagining taking “a train into the city,” drifting out on an easy rhythm exquisitely coloured by Roback’s sublime, reverb-heavy electric twang.
It’s easy to forget how this duo’s every tune conjures a different emotional world. “California” may be one of the bleakest numbers ever written about the Sunshine State: Against complex strumming, Sandoval breathily muses about returning there, “drifting across the ocean/ I can watch the skies turning grey.” Vague, portentous and — like the similarly wintry title track — utterly captivating.
Roback’s texturing of unamplified and amplified six-strings is the growth area this time, as well as a new fixation on bottleneck, which takes the album’s latter half in an agelessly bluesy direction. On “Spoon,” he duels with the late Scots folk legend Bert Jansch, while Sandoval intones, “Ain’t nobody gonna spin me round.” Seasons Of Your Day reignites everything great about Mazzy Star, while enforcing onward artistic progression with quiet yet unerring rigor.