Though it sounds like none of them, this seeming one-off of a release from Hope Sandoval easily stands among Vashti Bunyan's Just Another Diamond Day, Bridget Saint John's Songs for a Gentle Man, and Linda Perhacs' Parallelograms as a dreamy folk classic. It's a breezy, sunny day outside, and I'm just playing this album over and over again searching for the right words to hold it. The thing is, as vaporous as these twelve songs feel, I'm finding myself bowled over by the strength of the songwriting. It's that perfect mix of drift and meticulous arrangements that defies pat conclusions. Much like Colleen's fragile instrumentals, the material is as barely there as it is indelible.
Then there's that voice. A mist-borne bubble of collapsed breaths. A tremble in the embrace of the impossibly healing forces of nature. A cool whisper in a rustling of dense, massive velvet curtains. It never fails to send chills all through me, to the point where I feel helpless against it. And the instrumentation (performed by Sandoval, MBV's Colm O'Ciosoig, and eight guests) almost mirrors this sensation, bolstering as much as deferring to her magical intonations. Bavarian Fruit Bread is just a cut above the rest when it comes to mellow perfection. It never quite loses its grip, even during the barely-there instrumental passages, creating an impenetrable cocoon of criss-crossing blue ribbon.
"Around My Smile" is as sexy as it is wiped out. It's like a vacant tome to feminine allure that, in its dry way, manages to make you acquiesce to the hokey sentiment that Sandoval really does "got it goin on." Then there's the gorgeous interpretation of Ballad of Cable Hogue's "Butterfly Mornings" (with folk luminary Bert Jansch on guitar). Not to take away from Stella Stevens' charming performance, but Sandoval once again takes something near cornball and makes it a thing of dusty, irresistible beauty. If Cable had been directed by Wim Wenders instead of Peckinpah, this is what the song might've been like.
Another highlight is the impossibly soft lullaby "Feeling of Gaze." After a stately cello intro, it melts into a sad sawing rhythm that breaks for a call to celebration like a charmingly weird antithesis of both Madonna and Kool and the Gang's exclamations. If you needed one song to sell you on this album, "Feeling of Gaze" is it. Though the heartbreaking Jesus and Mary Chain cover ushering in the record should be more than enough. Then there's "On the Low," a phased-out, bluesy rhythmic partner to the shoegaze-toned "Around My Smile."
After the near eight-minute Landing-esque murk of "Lose Me on the Way," we are knocked from a bottomless dreaming haze into the slow stirring of an unlisted twelfth track, thus ending what has been an earthy yet gauzy listening excursion on a relatively grounded note, rather than an almost frighteningly ethereal one. Which shows that, as much as this is an album perfect for kicking back, it's also ideal as a harrowing experience in losing oneself in sheer sensuality before emerging back into the terse realm of everyday life.