Artfully and delicately proceeding from Velvet Underground drone and folk-rock strum, California’s Mazzy Star makes music that can be either spellbinding or soporific. As a member of the Rain Parade, guitarist David Roback was a central figure in the “paisley underground,” a loose community of Los Angeles bands that gave psychedelia a post-punk revival in the early ’80s. After folding the group, he formed the short-lived Clay Allison with ex-Dream Syndicate bassist Kendra Smith. That band evolved into Opal, which combined textural folk and spacey feedback on 1987’s moody Happy Nightmare Baby.
Smith left Opal in mid-tour to retire (she later returned to action as a solo artist), and Roback began playing with sullen-sounding Los Angeles singer Hope Sandoval as Mazzy Star. Sandoval’s voice is chillier than Smith’s — chillier than just about anybody’s, actually — but Roback’s neo-psychedelic style remains largely the same as it was in Opal. Still, most of She Hangs Brightly is absolutely haunting. On melodic songs like “Blue Flower” and “Ride It On,” Sandoval’s eerie voice draws the listener into Roback’s gentle swirl of feedback. But the news isn’t all good: on some tunes, things slow to the point of lifelessness. (The band is officially a duo, but Opal’s drummer, Keith Mitchell, is among the album’s cast of musicians.)
Unfortunately, much of the uneven So Tonight That I Might See drones along at that same aural crawl. The album does have some real gems, though, including the transcendent “Fade Into You,” which became an improbable hit. That song, “Five String Serenade” and a few others redeem the record, but also make the rest seem weaker by comparison. At worst, Sandoval doesn’t sound haunting so much as plain old uninterested, and Roback’s guitar playing is so languid it seems to fade into nothingness. Mazzy Star makes a compelling case for the idea that quiet psychedelia has a place in modern music, but the duo also shows how quickly the style can become tired.