Nothing these days sounds entirely new, and so Mazzy Star — a duo made up of singer Hope Sandoval and guitarist David Roback, both veterans of California independent-label bands — could be explained as an unlikely mix of country music and art rock. It’s as if Patsy Cline had lived long enough to record with the Velvet Underground on She Hangs Brightly.
These songs sound ethereal and yet homespun. The ingredients are simple enough. There’s a touch of country blues, and a halo of fuzz around the ringing of Roback’s guitar. Other musicians play distant, wheezing synthesizers and drums that sound as if they were made of cardboard. Sandoval’s lyrics (in ”Before I Sleep,” for example) flirt with uncomplicated poetry: ”I stay near the edge and waste my time.”
Still, the music is wonderfully strange. ”Ghost Highway” is built around a single, rarely changing chord. ”Taste of Blood,” the spookiest song on the album, starts innocently enough, with a simple strum on acoustic guitar; in the background someone’s whistling. Soon Sandoval joins in, singing about the ”taste of blood on lips of wine.” The song proceeds normally — except that hardly anything changes.
A fresh guitar riff might sound more emphatic than the last; an unexpected percussion instrument might goose the music with a momentary rasp. Otherwise the song just goes on as it started, changing only near-intangibles like the music’s color and weight. Mazzy Star doesn’t sound like more famous bands whose music depends heavily on nuance. Cowboy Junkies, for instance, are mainstream by comparison. For anyone willing to navigate fog-shrouded, oddly lit terrain, Mazzy Star should be a wonderful discovery.