“It’s not so precious; it’s just a song. It’s just art and art is nothing. Art is not precious, anybody can do it. A five-year-old can do it. It’s not a big deal.”
– Hope Sandoval
A lot of people seem to be unplugging now, and it’s a bracing sort of peace. But that tense stillness could be the last thing we survive and adapt to before our inevitable demise. If a new Hope Sandoval record seems like a low-stakes situation to you, you’re not wrong. Aside from opening with a droning number (not unlike So Tonight That I Might See’s titular finale) that runs nine minutes, Until the Hunter is decidedly on par. I could end the review there. One could argue that reviewing any Hope Sandoval/Mazzy Star album would be pointless unless things took a drastic turn for worse. Both projects have been so consistently winning over time that a dramatic plummet would be way too much of a bummer to bother taking to task.
But the singer-songwriter is still releasing vital material, and those who love it only need be reminded it’s out there. The fact that Sandoval and bandmate Colm Ó Cíosóig are generally internet and social media averse only adds to the pointlessness of this. But futility’s strongest enemy is ever more work (or just dyin’ I guess). Sisyphus was punished by Zeus with his endlessly discouraging task, but what’s frequently allegorically ignored is the notion that Zeus probably enjoyed watching Sisyphus at his work. And maybe, after a time, the boulderman found a sort of resolve in his exercise. If the rock didn’t roll down, he might not know what to do next. Uncertainty can be so much worse than rote, machine-like devotion. Hope and Colm make music because it’s all they know, and I write about it because I’m hopelessly accustomed to that activity. Why stare at fish in a tank? Why the hell not?
I know, I know. What a screaming bore! Well, boredom is great. Boredom makes fun seem better or more natural when it arrives. Butt-numbing wonder is a good thing for some of us. We laugh at your aggression. Your pretensions of raising hell. Your eye-rolling impatience out of yearning for something more or just something else. It’s called restlessness, and like calm, it works both for us and against us. But boredom isn’t necessarily death. Calm, contemplative hours remind us that there’s no ascension without losing some of what we cherish in ourselves. And we love ourselves to survive. We shut out the world and put on Hope Sandoval to keep heart while our strength and our goodness are threatened by subconscious pressure. The sense of an immense writhing, anguished world runs through seemingly infinite filters. Our mind’s potential easily vacillates from thrilled to demented to destroyed when we open all these virtual windows. Sometimes when we don’t. Ignorance isn’t bliss, but blankness and letting that existential grip relax is plainly essential.
Until the Hunter is an ominous title, but that cover… that cover’s just a jellyfish with a tiny landscape inside of it. It’s not necessarily silly, but there isn’t a deep-sea dweller vibe to be found on here. There are plenty of oceanic ones, just nothing that fits the art exactly. But I nitpick. And this is a great album to do that with. There are times when everything is just right (like the impeccably arranged and sturdy acoustic tracks making up most of the album’s final third) and times when things get stale (the rote dirge anthems “Salt of the Sea” and closer, “Liquid Lady”). And while I adore the concept of a Hope Sandoval/Kurt Vile duet, first single “Let Me Get There” feels a bit off. The song is warm and inviting, but Kurt’s rugged sustain isn’t suited to the sparkling production. And while I love it when Hope throws some catchy hooks out, I don’t think the refrain “It’s all in the groove” is detachable from its moldy 1960s (or even subsequent 1960s trend revivals) connotation. It’s all in my craw, is what it is, though the part when Kurt goes “aww” makes me smile every time. As much as each Warm Inventions record has shown the duo stretching out its shared aesthetic, this may be the first offering where the best songs are the most pretty and unassuming.
That said, there is a creeping charm to tracks that seem initially off. The speak-singing of “A Wonderful Seed” hit me as cloying at first, but with each subsequent listen, its spare, moaning arrangement supplies a grim power to the vocal, which renders the following “Band on The Run”-cribbing Vile track a delicious sunburst, despite your infernal good time geekin’ nitpicks. Both Warm Inventions and Mazzy Star are proven purveyors of velvet psych, album rock sophistication. I’m so glad they continue, and I’m glad I’m still here to take it all in and blather to you about them. Nobody asked and here it is. A pillow for your screaming head. Stop pretending you don’t need it, toughie. Curl up and live.