To follow the work of Hope Sandoval and Colm Ó Cíosóig over the years has required a healthy dollop of patience. Three years ago their main projects, Mazzy Star and My Bloody Valentine, both ended interminable waits for new material by releasing albums sixteen and twenty-two years after their predecessors, respectively. That Sandoval and Ó Cíosóig have reconvened three short years later to revive their Warm Inventions project, merely seven years after their previous album together, is an unprecedented burst of prolificacy. You’d have to recheck your calendar to make sure you didn’t accidentally fall asleep for half a decade.
The need for patience extends to the music itself. Unlike their more well-known parent acts, Until The Hunter does not seek to create beauty through aural chaos or, apart from a couple of standout exceptions, formulate a half-remembered dreamlike atmosphere. Of those exceptions, the opener ‘Into The Trees’ is the stunner. Over nine minutes, a somnambulant organ and soft-malleted tom repeat gently over Sandoval’s repeated declarations (“I miss you”), calling to mind a reflective solitary road trip across an empty Route 66 landscape, the near-constant cymbal crashes pushed low in the mix like the roar of an engine disappearing into imperceptibility. It is the album’s most thrilling moment, and while at first glance it may be tempting to be disappointed by the following songs’ more traditional bent, there are still sterling moments of Sandoval’s lyrical prowess unseen in the opener.
‘A Wonderful Seed’ paints an evocative character study of a woman named only as Miss Sylvia, lost in the “sweet blessing… of a life no one could save”, battling demons while offering support to the narrator: “she never let me wander too far away”. Nothing in my research could clarify whether or not this song is a direct tribute to Sandoval’s close friend and onetime bandmate Sylvia Gomez (“We’re very close and talk all the time, but I still miss her. She’s a brilliant songwriter, an amazing guitarist and a big influence on me. She’s not really that into releasing music… it’s not her thing.”) But even if it is more general, it remains an effective portrait of independence and compassion.
By and large, the rest of the album doesn’t quite hit these highs despite being a pleasant, if overlong, listen. Kurt Vile’s guest appearance on ‘Let Me Get There’ certainly benefits from having a counterpoint to his voice, meaning the track can still be enjoyable to those who struggle to get excited by his solo work. There’s a light country influence throughout, with slide guitar and acoustic emphasis, but it does not always fit the protracted song writing. The second half of the album particularly suffers from this, ‘Salt of the Sea’ and ‘The Hiking Song’ feeling much longer than their actual lengths, and not really serving the narratives to the same level as the preceding tracks.
The album ends solidly, with ‘I Took A Slip’ and ‘Liquid Lady’ adding an extra burst of energy. Though still overlong (it’s harder to sustain an atmosphere with bluesy noodling than sleepy ambience, though it’s certainly worth trying), the closer benefits from the addition of soloing into the album’s established style, like the roadtrip nearing its end from the sight of a cityscape on the horizon.
Until The Hunter is undoubtedly a mixed bag, but the moments that work make it a worthy listen for fans of the duo’s other work. For those new to the group, though, it is probably worth investigating their earlier, dreamier material before diving into this new album.