Mazzy Star – She Hangs Brightly – Round 15 – Graham’s Choice

Can’t remember what led me to this debut album in 1990, but it was certainly nothing like anything else I was listening to at the time. In fact when I look back at what I was mainly listening to then, I really needed to broaden my horizons!

Anyway, I came to this album with no knowledge of the Paisley Underground scene in California and the band’s beginnings in the form of Opal. I thought this record was astonishing and although it seems to have been reasonably warmly received at the time, I always felt it deserved greater credit. The wonderfully dreamy and
haunting sound of both vocals and playing made a big impact on me. From my own
collection I could identify the Velvet Underground and Doors references, along
with a sound I could only describe as a sort of Jesus and Mary Chain ‘lite’.
Researching the band now led me to discover Hope Sandoval’s later musical and
personal involvement with the Reid brothers.

The addition of folky/alternative country influences made
this a distinctive overall sound for its time. There are some Doorish
‘noodling’ moments on the album (particularly on the title track) but that
aside I wonder if this has been released within the last 10 years the impact
might have been different? Maybe the world would have been more interested and
accepting of such a crossover sound and less reliant on some of the boundaries
of the categories that applied at the time.

I never followed the band further with their other 2 albums
in 1993 and 1996, but have now caught up with them. The sound doesn’t move on
very much at all, but they still deserve a listen. Bizarrely, “Into Dust” from
the 2nd album, now features on the current tv adverts for “Gears of
War 3” (whatever that is!).

Nick listened: I’m very vaguely aware of Mazzy Star, familiar with their reputation and aesthetic if not their songs, particularly. Emma owns So Tonight That I Might See, and I’ve heard it a number of times but never really chosen to put it on myself. I’m also familiar with Hope Sandoval’s vocals from appearances of other people’s records, primarily Massive Attack’s (last?) album. This was lovely; more purely country than I would have thought, but also sparse, dreamy, and exploratory at points, too – the tracks that remind Graham of The Doors remind me of really early Verve b-sides. Different frames of reference! TI really enjoyed this, and it’s on the longlist of records to buy.

Tom Listened: I own She Hangs Brightly and knew it well at the time of its release. I probably haven’t listened to it in the last 15 years though! Upon re-acquaintance I was struck at how simplistic much of the record sounded, how these days a record such as this would no doubt be embellished to the hilt, adorned with strings and keyboards and choirs and the like. But, then, if you have a voice as pure and astonishing as Hope Sandoval’s (sounding like an ‘even more heavenly than Dolly Parton’ Dolly Parton on this record) in your armour, is there any need for additional extras? Well, I was left undecided, feeling that about half of the album was nigh on perfect, the other half sounded slightly under-developed…almost as though a  few strummed chords and a half-decent melody was felt to be enough when sung by Ms Sandoval. I’m not sure it was.

Rob listened: Not under-appreciated by me! This record was a turning point in my musical development. Tom’s brother gave it to me on a tape with ‘The Velvet Underground’ on the other side. It took a while, but I fell in love with the hazy perfection of ‘Halah’ and that led me down dreamy roads to Low, Lambchop, Bonnie Prince Billy etc etc. I may have found my way there without Hope and Dave, but it would have taken years longer. I still have the photos Ben took of the band when we saw them play in a tiny venue (Manchester Met, I think) c1994. We stood staring at Hope Sandoval, enraptured by her voice and, well, her. I’d probably do the same today.

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