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Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions Through the Devil Softly Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

A pleasurable, albeit distinctly predictable, listening experience.

Mike Diver 2009

Those familiar with Hope Sandoval’s work – both as vocal point of The Warm Inventions alongside former My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig and as lead singer with 90s alt-rockers Mazzy Star – will surely approach this new release with expectations in place. Warm, tender tones, gentle acoustic guitar work, subtle percussion; an overall sense that no song was hurried to completion, that the duo allowed each piece to breath its way into existence at its own pace. Such expectations are perfectly met.

Through the Devil Softly is so slight of frame, so delicate of form, that one almost feels guilty for poring over it with a critical ear. The cymbal ripple that rises so wonderfully in the background of There’s a Willow, the muffled click-clack clamour of Fall Aside, the fireside nostalgia of Wild Roses – these are not arrangements to be taken out of context, stripped of the affection that’s gone into their creation. The tilted sigh of a harmonica can’t rightly be expressed in words; it has to be heard, and on the latter track it’s heartbreaking.

Left to its own devices, with you to yours, it’s easy to let Through the Devil Softly play out without much of an impression left. It’s that sort of album – one where focused listening can lead to lyrics wrapping around the listener, lending the album a weight deliberately lacking in its musicianship. But if you chose to acknowledge it only as a background distraction, it can be equally as beguiling, the odd movement or slight shift in textural makeup alerting the senses to something that, really, more attention should be directed the way of.

Known for her ethereal voice, Sandoval might take centre stage on both sleeve and in mix, but such is the lightness of her contributions that you’d never call her the outright star of the show. Just as important is the country-fied twang of guitar that simmers delightfully in Trouble, a standout that will appeal effortlessly to aficionados of Rosanne Cash and Cat Power alike, and all the while Ó Cíosóig’s backing is superbly reserved. The wordless moans and shimmers of understated melancholy that run throughout the long-player ensure continuity is achieved whatever the direction of constituent tracks, and come the closer, Satellite, one can look back on the experience as a pleasurable, albeit distinctly predictable, one.

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