Discreet blooms

Singer Hope Sandoval (above).
Singer Hope Sandoval (above).PHOTO: TENDRIL TALES

Amid the fire and brimstone that characterises the United States presidential elections, listening to Hope Sandoval is like being drenched in a welcome baptism of rain.

Until The Hunter - her third album with Colm O'Ciosoig (of My Bloody Valentine) under The Warm Inventions monicker - comes seven years after their last release, Through The Devil Softly.

It seems that nothing has changed. Everything hangs like a veil, diaphanous; a candle lit in the far recesses of the room. Well, "seems" is the operative word.

The second song, The Peasant, is ostensibly about a farmer, a country bumpkin or someone hopelessly in love. Shimmering guitar riffs herald Sandoval's unmistakable purr and you are ensnared.

Pay close attention and there is a glimpse of delicious power play. "Collecting your favours/That you, you believe are stolen," she sings in a passive-aggressive duel of wills. "Oh, somebody will notice/And you'll be the one so easily deceived," she adds. Then again, she may well be singing about herself in the second person.

That is the allure of Sandoval. She floats above the fray - be it an electoral fracas or a relationship coming apart - and you are left shaken and stirred in the wake.



    Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions

    Tendril Tales

    4/5 stars

So much so that time, or place, cannot bind her. A Wonderful Seed could be a Celtic dirge or an Appalachian murder ballad. Strings are gently, and precisely, flecked. A cavern of coos swirls around like angels or ghosts. Sandoval, who still sounds girlish at the age of 50, unleashes vowels at her own languid pace, stretching a diphthong or rolling out a ribbon of "l's".

She evokes a character, the mysterious Miss Sylvia. "But tinkers and tailors and soldiers unknown/Nobody could keep this lady their own," she declares, herself a siren of sorts.

Not everything is shrouded in a magical fog.

When she comes down to earth, Sandoval can be, well, approachable. Let Me Get There - a duet featuring Philly rocker Kurt Vile - shimmies on a Memphis soul groove. She is the wise anchor to his shambolic self, as they trade the chorus and title, "let me get there", like a middle-aged, world-weary couple yet to couple.

Sandoval does not declaim or decry. Her songs bloom discreetly. The Hiking Song is an eight-minute-plus rambler that detours, pauses and ends in a place you have never been. Day Disguise is a reprieve from darkness, her supple voice braiding with buttery chords. I Took A Slip is jauntier, driven by propulsive riffs.

Just when you think you have got her figured out, Sandoval ends the journey into the long night with the six-minute funky, swampy number Liquid Lady.

She is casting off the seraphic garb for something slinky. "I'm keeping you in my satellite... how high, the devil's eye," she sings, weaving through the serpentine riffs and slapdash percussion. You espy her silhouette against the light, transmogrifying in the glowing embers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline 'Discreet blooms'. Subscribe