I first bought So Tonight That I Might See in 1995. I mostly played it as a going-to-sleep or schmoozing-with-guests album. It’s reliably mellow from start to finish, evenly tempered, lightly tuneful, drowzy, druggy, a description that takes in Hope Sandoval’s lazy sounding, seductive, torch-song voice. I think of So Tonight That… as one of those perennial staples of my collection, a great album that gets hauled out every now and then and thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. I never quite flipped head over heels for it because it sort of grew up on me slowly. It’s pretty much a continuation of She Hangs Brightly but with slightly better tunes. The thing about Mazzy Star is that they’re an albums band. By that, I mean where some songs are perhaps not as good as others, wishy washy droney things, every song feels indispensable to the whole album and it wouldn’t be wholly incorrect to suggest that Mazzy Star albums works like suites with movements. Their albums ebb and flow through a series of moods. There’s the voodoo swamp rock, the country rock acoustic numbers, the drifty Billie Holiday bluesy ones, the one chord drones, and the obscure cover. The sound on the remastered vinyl is sumptuous. Set fire to the turntable Bumstead…
Fade Into You… is Mazzy Star’s most well known song. It was one of those perennial nineties compilation songs—incredibly slow and simple, pretty much stealing the chord sequence from Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heavens Door,’ and you can faintly hear it, but that’s no detraction. This is the ‘poppiest’ song on the album, the single, the opening track, and while there is still some psychedelic brilliance to come, nothing else quite measures up to the immortal dreamy feel of this one. The LP has the most beautiful warm sound. Lyrically, Hope Sandoval is not the kind of singer who grabs you by the lapels and demands to have her poetry acknowledged, ergo: “I look to you and I see nothing / I look to you to see the truth.” The languages and images always seem a bit vague, a bit abstract. This doesn’t matter. Her voice carries the mood far better than any literality could. ‘Fade Into You’ is mostly just strummed acoustic guitar, bass and drums, with a few country-like slide guitar hooks in the background, and a tambourine on every fourth beat. It literally does ‘fade into you’ as per the chorus: “Fade into you / I think it’s strange you never knew.” It’s a song you never tire of – it’s just got that vibe, the slow burning melody. Sandoval sings about falling in love and we find ourselves falling in love with her voice and songs.
Bells Ring… is a really nice follow up to ‘Fade Into You.’ Quite similar in mood. Nice tambourine thump. Echo effect on the vocal. Guitar is full of feedback and grunge, but it’s way back in the mix so it just provides a fuzzy bed for the vocal and lead guitar. Less changes than ‘Fade Into You,’ this one moves along at a soporific pace, not changing much, but the groove is just right. It’s probably not a hugely memorable track in its own right; this is where the whole album just starts to blur together, but in a good way. The only annoying thing is that Sandoval’s voice is recorded with so much reverb that it’s too difficult to make out the words. “Nobody’s out to buy your story / Nobody wants to know your reason why.” The structure here seems to be a two chord mantra, churning, pause, stop, start again and add that very Cure-like slow guitar part. Distant waves of feedback. Galaxie 500 are another band that come to mind the way a simple guitar line repeats over an increasing storm of noise as the song speeds up towards the end. Very nice, though not sure what it’s about. Obsession perhaps. Or something about trying to lose an obsession.
Mary Of Silence… this song has been described as “really stripped down.” The vocal is even more sleepy than ever, if such a thing was possible: “Oh sweet Mary / Come inside for a while.” It’s a lot Gothy, a bit Jesus and Mary Chain with that sluggish beat, and the echoey, eerie feedback, blurps of sustain, and the title of course, “Oh sweet Mary of silence / My last thoughts, they come to me / I can’t take the pain.” The lyrics are a bit dirgey really, a bit poesy, a bit trite. Musically we have a low quiet bass waver, slow erratic drums, and what sounds like an organ low in the mix. Quiet, but droning. All sorts of things start to build up in the background; more psychedelic feedback that would be quite nasty if it was up front in the mix but instead provides atmosphere. Little solos. Random static and feedback. The song sounds like it’s being pulled through a very dangerous murk of grunge and feedback. Yet, despite the negatives, the song fits neatly into its space, because next we have…
Five String Serenade… a cover of an Arthur Lee song and probably the next highlight on the album. A lovely arpeggio-played acoustic guitar, with a tiny tambourine. Lovely tune. Edge of the world vocal. Again, it fits in perfectly to the mood of the whole album. It would be easy to call it come-down music. Definitely depressing under those circumstances, but I find it just serene, mellow, relaxing – that’s it – it’s just really good for relaxing to. Best listened to in the dark, for chilling out to before going to bed. I love where the tune changes, rises a notch. Here’s the entire lyric: “This is my five string serenade / Beneath the water we’ve played / And while I’m playing for you / It might be raining there too / And on my easel I drew / While I was thinking of you / And on the roof of my head / In came my five string serenade.” Very sad sounding song. A siren calling you to shipwreck. And it just repeats over and over and yet you never want it to end. Utterly beautiful.
Blue Light… starts off with a warbly low-end organ drone, not dissimilar to something Jason Pierce might have come up with, followed by a lovely slow clear arpeggio playing over that. Here we have yet another breathtakingly pretty, slow subtle number that gets embedded in your head. “There’s a blue light in my best friend’s room… / Miles crashing me by / Crashing me by / There’s a world outside my doorstep / Flames over everyone’s heart / Don’t you see them shining / I wanna hear them / Beating for me.” Somehow the vagueness of these words is perfectly matched to her voice. A little bit of slide guitar, that organ warble, the pace so slow you could run a tortoise race with this as the soundtrack. Sandoval sounds like she’s whispering these words into your ear.
She’s My Baby… what a kickass song to start Side Two with. I’m trying to place a reference here but I can’t quite think of it. This is more of that droney psychedelic stuff with a really cool sound bed, and great tune. I suppose if I was listening to this for the first time, it might have the potential to bore, but it grows, really grows, slow-core, like coral, beautiful subtle colours, awesome sonic guitar effects pervading the background. Bit more intense this one. The feedback effects are wonderful. I even hear a bit of Hendrix in here, evenly-spread, palatable. Song doesn’t really go anywhere but it doesn’t have to because it’s got so much neat stuff going on in the background. Lyrically it’s another difficult one to make sense of. “She’s my baby / Ain’t that something / But I know she belongs to you / Yesterday was another day, when I / Saw your baby, walkin’ home alone … / … Baby’s feelin’ bad today / She said she’s thinkin’ of goin’ away.” The rhythm becomes more and more erratic, the lyrics are half-sung, half-spoken, the noises and warbles and sheen and fuzz keep zigzagging in and out of the sound, just below Sandoval’s voice. The whole thing, disintegrates, falls apart, decays at the end. Like ashes after a fire.
Unreflected… after the mesmerising dirge of ‘She’s My Baby’ this is crisp and clear again. Lovely acoustic rhythm guitar. Hand-toms pounded slowly. Again, this song isn’t hugely memorable, but it’s serving a different purpose – it’s providing that counterpoint to the previous song – it’s like coda or bridge between tracks perhaps. It’s still an integral part of the whole is what I’m trying to say – and where that might be damning praise on another album, here it’s utterly necessary. This is like warm balm against your ears. It’s soft and stringy and fades out. “In our memories / We don’t have much to say / We don’t have much to say / We don’t have much.” There you go. It often feels as though the lyrics are any old thing that she thought would fit the melody. It’s her voice that matters far more than the words. The main rhythm gets played over and over until fade out…
Wasted… is another ‘totally stripped down’ song. Takes a classic blues riff, amps it up with distortion, but plays it reeeeeal slow-like, and moodily, just guitar, a drum beat, and a sultry diva singing into the darkness. To be honest, this is a song that if I’m not really listening to the album, sometimes gets on my nerves, but sitting here listening to it closely reveals stunning depths. Check out these words: “After I stuck my / Hands into your ground / And pulled out / Somebody else’s son / I felt a little unfortunate / A little mistaken / I felt like I’d been wasted.” She seems to be singing about being stoned out of her skull “all day long.” It just sounds so good, such a beautiful rich warm fuzzy sound. This gets weirder, builds up, electric dirge guitars start filling in the spaces. David Roback is quite some mean guitarist and you have to admire his restraint. He keeps all his fretwork far in the background to create moods and beds of sound when he could easily show off if he wanted but prefers to use his skills to create texture. Song is long. The beat/rhythm thing is persistent and droney.
Into Dust… back to a clear four note arpeggio played over an atmospheric tonal melody. Vocal is very up front here, pensive, as though she’s singing to someone over the edge of a cliff or down the bottom of a stairwell and her voice just floats on down. “Still falling / Breathless and on again.” A very delicate number this, so dreamy, and quite quite beautiful. And her voice kind of floats like a dandelion across the guitar melody. Not sure what the lyrics are about. Again they’re a bit gothic and vague, a washed out feeling, perhaps it’s the post-stoned hangover. “I could possibly be fading … / I could feel myself growing colder…/ … I could feel my eyes turning into dust / And two strangers turning into dust / Turning into dust.” I guess it’s about a failed relationship. It’s almost the musical equivalent of someone crying into their pillow. A tiny snippet of cello tacked on the end.
So Tonight That I Might See… harks back to the slow rhythm of ‘Wasted’ two tracks back, only this is slightly faster and more voodoo-ish. This is like a slowed down version of one of those doomy Stooges or Doors numbers. There’s only one riff repeated through the whole song. The lyrics are all spoken word. There are places where lyrics somehow overlap, like her voice is still finishing one line while she starts up the next, little ghostly echoes of her voice fizzing away behind the main voice. Lines like “I hold you tight like rain / Sunshine on a rainy day.” It sounds awfully important somehow, as though she’s reading aloud someone’s suicide note. She sounds a bit too serious though, as in, obsessive. It’s really swampy and morbid. This takes that whole guitar-feedback creating-a-sound-bed thing to its logical extreme. Here, it’s right out there, really going for broke, all sorts of weird noises, burbles, fiddly arpeggios, nasty feedback scratches, wild riffing going on in the background while over top you’ve got the lead guitar playing the same thing over and over, voice talking away, tambourine tapped, total tripped out drug vibe all the way to the rehab clinic.
After that last song, the whole album starts to take on the feel of a bad drug trip. Paranoia, fear, urban misery, night, darkness, hearts, rain. All the usual tropes of teenage angst which would be explored almost to the point of nauseum again on their last album of the 90s, Among My Swan. New Mazzy Star album dropping in 2013 too. Oh how we despairing Sandoval-seduced souls are looking forward to that.