One of the best albums of the year.
It’s a sure bet that Hope Sandoval never hurries through her days. Whether in the long gaps between albums as Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions or with Mazzy Star, or her languorous and sultry singing style and the way she seems to savor each syllable, she lives by her own time. That voice is so distinctive it can send writers into paroxysms of descriptors. “Gauzy,” “foggy,” “dream-like,” “narcotic,” “dusky,” “haunting,” “nocturnal”… all words which have been used time and again in articles and reviews. And with good reason as they all perfectly hit the mark.
Until the Hunter is the third release under the Warm Inventions name, a long-running partnership with My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O’Coisog. The album picks up where 2009’s Through the Devil Softly left off and is not too dissimilar from her recent work on Mazzy Star’s 2013 Seasons of Your Day. But, again, that’s largely because of the nature of her voice. There’s just a certain kind of music she fits so well into: a warm, soft, gothic psychedelia with touches of country and folk. It would be hard to imagine her singing hard rock or dance pop, for example, both of which would be unnatural settings for her skills.
“Can I please haunt you?” Sandoval sings on “Day Disguise,” weaving her way through fertile night gardens of song. Until the Hunter finds Sandoval’s inimitably intimate voice accompanied by O’Coisog, Irish band Dirt Blue Gene, Kurt Vile, street musician and cymbalom (a type of hammered dulcimer) player Michael Masley, and, in an inspired pairing, psych-folk singer-songwriter Mariee Sioux on several tracks.
One of those tracks, “In the Trees,” starts the album somewhat audaciously with nine minutes of claustrophobic spookiness. Someone Sandoval cares about disappeared in those trees, and she fears (or hopes?) that the same fate awaits her. Was the person taken by a dark, nameless force? Vampires? Witches? The wolf from Little Red Riding Hood? “I miss you,” she intones again and again against a drone of organ, vibraphone, electronic effects, tribal drums and Sioux’s ghostly voice echoing Sandoval’s lament. We can assume there ain’t nobody coming back in this scenario. As impressive as this track is, it may have been better placed as a dramatic album closer, as it’s a bit misleading as an introduction to a collection that, in essence, is less nightmare and more shadowed daydream.
By the time we get to “Let Me Get There,” a duet between Sandoval and Vile, things are much less ominous. Their voices blend well over an easygoing back beat and tasteful electric guitar. It’s a “hypnotic soul groove” (as Vile has referred to the song), rooted in the feel of classic ‘60s soul like “Rainy Night in Georgia.” This hypnotic groove translates over to the folkier sounds of “Day Disguise,” “A Wonderful Seed” and “The Hiking Song,” as well as to the ethereal blues of “Liquid Lady.” Songs such as the breezy “It Isn’t True” and the wistful lullaby tones of “Treasure” work well to balance the darker elements that always seem to lurk in the background, not necessarily threatening but always mysterious.
Sandoval and O’Coisog have never sounded as in command of their craft as they do on this album. They sound inspired and still able to pull from a deep well of ideas to make their distinctive brand of music remain interesting, even though the basic feel of it hasn’t changed drastically over the years.
Part of the way they do this is with the interesting array of instruments used here. Guitars, acoustic, electric and slide crop up throughout; varied percussion including chimes and sleigh bells on “Isn’t it True”; violin on “The Hiking Song;” all the way to synchronized handclaps on “I Took a Slip.” There’s a lot going on musically, yet the ménage of instruments are not tripping over each other – there’s always a symbiosis with the songs themselves.
“It’s all in the groove” indeed, as the line in “Let Me Get There” states. We wouldn’t want to hurry Sandoval; her brand of slow-burn sonic transmission is worth the wait. Until the Hunter is one of the best albums of the year and stands proud in her three-decade long discography.