Viva Saturn

  • Viva Saturn
  • Viva Saturn EP (Heyday) 1989 
  • Soundmind (Spirit/Heyday) 1992 
  • Brightside (Restless) 1995 

When California psyche-popsters Rain Parade came to an end, leader David Roback broke off to form Opal and then Mazzy Star; his bass-playing brother Steven (joined by bandmate John Thoman on guitar, future Continental Drifter drummer Carlo Nuccio and two others) reemerged as the guitar/keyboards-playing singer of Viva Saturn. The eponymous five-song 12-inch continues the former band’s tastefully time-shifted folk-pop eloquence with cello shading, organ and backward tape manipulation casting a mild psychedelic swirl on quietly sung delicacies like “Brought It on Yourself” and the alluring “Remember I’m Dead.”

Tightened up to a four-piece, the unprolific Viva Saturn finally released its debut album several years later, sounding like a slightly more energized West Coast version of Luna with mild shoegazer tendencies (and, in the memorably dispirited “Haven’t Felt Like,” a dusty ’60s piano-pop affect). Firm songwriting and crisp drumming holds Soundmind together, as Roback’s dreamy singing (supported by such guests as Barbara Manning, Chris Cacavas and Matt Piucci) and the layers of languid guitar could easily float apart into shapeless reveries. A remarkably calm and pretty record that masks its aggression in a delicate mix, the perplexing Soundmind soothes as it sears.

Contrary to its chipper title, the majority of songs on Brightside are mournful enough to send Morrissey into a funk. “Send a Message” and “Here Comes April” are sprightly and upbeat, but most of the material is bleak and lonely, with titles like “Black Cloud,” “Mourn the Light,” “Nothing Helps” and “Distracted.” The somber “String Me Out a Line” conveys aching loneliness with haunting clarity, its gentle acoustic instrumentation and quiet vocal harmonies making it Brightside‘s most memorable track.

[Ira Robbins / Katherine Yeske]