Blanchard 5:00
Wild Roses 3:38
For The Rest Of Your Life 5:37
Lady Jessica And Sam 4:28
Sets The Blaze 2:29
Thinking Like That 4:43
There's A Willow 5:05
Trouble 5:23
Fall Aside 4:44
Blue Bird 5:10
Satellite 4:58


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December 17, 2010
referencing Through The Devil Softly, CD, Album, Dig, 0 6700 30848 2 6
Someone needs to release this on vinyl... it's the shiznit!


November 2, 2009
referencing Through The Devil Softly, CD, Album, Dig, 0 6700 30848 2 6

I don't listen to Hope Sandoval when I'm happy. No, Hope's cds are playing when it's a lonesome autumn night, stars are in the sky, I'm thinking of that girl I used to know, and the bottle of Pinot is getting near empty. Why sleep when those memories are gonna keep you up anyway? So I hit repeat, and sink into the soft caress of The Warm Inventions one more time.

Like Tom Waits' "Early Years", Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" or The Velvet Underground's 3rd album, Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions' latest, "Through the Devil Softly", is what you play when you need an album that will put its arm around your shoulder and hold you close. Like those albums, the performances here are incredibly intimate; this is not music that jumps out of your speakers; rather, it's music that casts a spell through its softness, its fragility, its restraint, and the way it flows through your body like liquid morphine. It's a sound where you actually hear fingers sliding on strings, where the vocals seem to be whispered straight into your ear, and where a single drum hit echoes like a gunshot in the forest.

Playing Hope's latest, my first impression was that it sounded a lot like her last one, "Bavarian Fruit Bread", also with The Warm Inventions. Now if there were dozens of vocalists out there doing this sound, that might bother me, but there aren't. In fact, there's just one, Hope Sandoval, who -love her or hate her- has carved out an absolutely distinctive style, as unique as any Norah or Bjork or Amy, all feline dragged-out slurs and slides and breathy blues. The other thing I knew, based on past experience, was that these songs would start to blossom over 5 or 10 listens, and sure enough they have.

The album opens with a clear "single", "Blanchard", which features more of a full band sound: Strummed acoustic guitars, rolling piano chords, a touch of Velvety bent-string twang, and a subdued rhythm section establish a tres Mazzy Star vibe -all bluesy-junkie-acid-folk- over which Hope purrs and whispers her reverb-drenched vocals. The words, though, seem deliberately blurry, hazy, just one step beyond comprehension unless you really, really listen. Which may be the point.

"Wild Roses" drops you deeper into the album's vibe: just a finger-picked guitar line with Hope's voice following it, running from it, following it again, "to leave, or to come back." A lonesome Neil Young harmonica will join in later, but when the entire band kicks in on the chorus, it will just grab your soul and refuse to give it back. An echoing, fuzzy bassline in a loping 3/4 rhythm establishes "For the Rest of Your Life", with some vibraphone (or maybe xylaphone) keeping a subdued feel until some fuzz guitar crashes in like a foot through your ceiling. Hope plays the siren here, taunting a lover like Patricia Arquette in that empty house in David Lynch's "Lost Highway" ("you'll never have me.") Dark, dark, dark.

"Sets The Blaze" is a stunner, with a very creative arrangement that's typical of the way Sandoval & The Warm Inventions polish a song till it shines like a gem, not a single note played unless it's absolutely necessary. So much of their sound is about space, about refusing to clutter things up, and this song is a perfect example. Delicate finger-picked guitar lines and tentative plunked keys set the mood, with a shimmer of cello that emerges like a mirage. No drums. Hope's vocals dance around the other lines, and every now and then the vocals double up with a harmony that seems like a reflection shimmering on the water. The lyrics remain impressionistic, full of mystery, suggesting much without getting pinned down. Hope's voice, sensual and breathy, hits you like a dream.

"Blue Bird", like "Sets The Blaze", also references the devil -which seems to me the code word for madness and breakdown here, or perhaps temptation and desire- and like that song it's sheer perfection. Just listen to that opening. A strummed chord, a line of vocals, the chord again, another line, then ... a beautifully placed pause leaves you dangling, waiting for that chord to make things right. They tease out this intro, with each line, each chord, seeming like it's being dragged into existence, and then Hope asks, "is that the devil in your eyes?", and the band kicks in, and it will leave you floored, an absolutely breathtaking moment. The song builds to a languid climax, then a beautiful breakdown at 3:30 leaves that chord hanging again, with one more question from Hope, and then it builds all over again. "Never / let me go" sings Hope, and you wish the song would do just that.

It's kind of mind-boggling to realise I've been listening to Hope's voice for about 20 years now. Some people might say she hasn't changed all that much, but I would argue that it's pretty amazing how fully formed she was as a vocalist already on Mazzy Star's debut, "She Hangs Brightly". The fact that she has only recorded 5 albums in a 2-decade span testifies to the love and care and real feeling that goes into each one, and "Through The Devil Softly" is no exception. In a better world, she'd be as popular as Norah Jones, but for those of us who know, she's our secret pleasure, our purring chanteuse & intoxicating muse. So slip the headphones on, open that bottle, and slide into the amber netherworld of The Warm Inventions...