Mazzy Star fans have been waiting a long, long time for a new album. The next best thing came along in 2001, when Hope Sandoval put out Bavarian Fruit Bread, her solo debut with the Warm Inventions (which is, for all intents and purposes, My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig). It had some impressive moments, but for the most part it sounded like little more than her trademark dream pop sound with a few sparse ideas thrown in to try and mix things up. Eight years later, She and Ó Cíosóig resurface, and with a much more fully realized follow up. Amazingly, Sandoval's rich and sensual voice shows no signs of wear, and she sounds almost exactly as she did sixteen years ago on Mazzy Star's breakout single, Fade Into You. Ó Cíosóig's playing has grown significantly as well, and the instrumentation throughout this effort sounds far more thought out and lush than that on its predecessor.
Blanchard, the album's single, sets the stage quite appropriately for Through the Devil Softly with its dreamy half blues, half folk demeanor and Hope Sandoval's sultry vocals; and for the most part, the album's dark, almost hazy air is carried on extremely well. For the Rest of Your Life is reminiscent of early Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with its almost sinister instrumentation, and the strikingly Leonard Cohen-esque Lady Jessica and Sam and Thinking Like That are as deeply arresting as they are melancholic. Trouble is perhaps the most fleshed out track, and consequently the most mnemonic of Mazzy Star. Driven almost as much by the bluesy guitar as Sandoval's hypnotic vocals (not to mention the beautiful harmonizing), it plays very much like a somehow bleaker version of a highlight from 1996's Among My Swan, the gorgeously lugubrious Roseblood. The duo never sound more eerie, though, than on the album's dark closer, the Portishead suggesting Satellite.
Where the atmosphere succeeds, however, the songwriting falls slightly short. Sets the Blaze, for example, fails to sound like anything beyond an interlude trying to keep the mood going, and the album would have been better off without it. The gentle Wild Roses doesn't work as well as it should either, held back by a guitar that sounds a bit too plain, and harmonica that fails to enrich it. The stumbles are indeed few, however, and they aren't enough to detract from the rest of the album, least of all the spellbinding stand out tracks Trouble and Blue Bird.
Even with news becoming more and more hopeful that Mazzy Star's fourth full length is coming sooner than later, Through the Devil Softly is so elegant and sophisticated that it's not merely something to tide us fans over in the meantime; it's a record that can truly be enjoyed on its own merit alone. At some times haunting and at others seductive, Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions' latest will grow on you relentlessly.