Everything Hope Sandoval releases is exquisite. Everything. Similar to Richard D. James, Sandoval seems ambivalent about releasing her work to the general public. She’s never stopped writing and singing all these 20-some years, but the portions, however sparsely released, of these efforts that we’ve been treated to are nothing to sneeze at. So perhaps a degree of comfy self-satisfaction permeates, but I defy anyone to find me a more perfectly pitched body of soothing sounds than those contained in the Warm Inventions/Mazzy Star repertoire. No matter how much the world may heave and implode and however many hot new whatevers come and go, Hope Sandoval remains a healing and humbling force of nature.
The arrangements on Seasons Of Your Day are so perfect as to make one forget that this is another 90s band comeback. Maybe the hooks are pushed aside, much like on Among My Swan, but there is a fantastic roominess to these songs. Every bit of slide, pedal steel, harpsichord, every softly bowed string and every sleepily drawled vocal is in its exact right place. The album sets a tone so elegantly placid that it changes the dimensions of the room in which it’s played. Suddenly an enclosed space is not so confining, but just another nook in the windswept, sunset-orange field you’d rather be in. But unlike a lot of other square-friendly releases that you might find at Starbucks (Ms. Sharon Jones excepted, of course), this one’s actually got some real indelible grit to it. It’s almost like a whole album of the best parts of “Love In Vain” or “No Expectations” with improved vocals.
Much like Califone, Sandoval and co. know how to carefully apply ubiquitous blues and country motifs in order to make a specific sound all their own. But whereas Califone can on occasion get in their own way with the sonic clutter, each Mazzy/Inventions outing is an emblem of blessed simplicity. As much as these songs roll along without planting “Fade Into You”-caliber brainworms, there are definite highlights. “Lay Myself Down” (the B-side of 2011’s “Common Burn” single) is probably the most upbeat track on here, with a loping porch-side rhythm and an elegiac string-laden sweep toward the end that gives your rocking chair a little extra lift. The “Tracks of My Tears”-aping hook of the opener is similarly brisk. It’s a quietly celebratory song whose organ line suggests that a less forlorn vibe might run through the album. “California” summarily dismisses this notion, ushering forth the starkest, spookiest acoustic Sandoval number since “All Your Sisters” (“Gonna put something in you, make the devil feel surprised”). “Flying Low” closes things out with a desolate, wide-angle blues stomp ‘n’ sprawl, flashing some slide guitar work straight out of a classic Ry Cooder soundtrack. The tune even bears a passing (2:11-2:30) resemblance to the verse part of “Hungry Like A Wolf,” which is pretty unexpected.
Since Seasons Of Your Day is as singer-songwriter lucid as it is drifting and haze-filled, it can be tempting to second guess it. Such is the downside of writing about music. Some part of me knows that I’ll never quite love these songs as much as the mood they create. They are fantastic, but there’s a definite nebulous quality that keeps them from being potential staples. So it’s not shuffle-friendly. Seasons Of Your Day is album music that is supposed to be played in sequence on a record player with a cup of tea and a good book. As ever, it’s rapturous makeout music. It’s music for unrepentant daydreamers (hiya!). But the record’s dusty functionality should not be held against it, especially when the people involved have spent so many years carving out such a particular niche. Sandoval and her collaborators may never modify the melancholy torch that they bear, but they keep that fire masterfully for those of us who still have a yen for patient, no-frills sounds that happen to serve as a miracle balm.