If psychedelic music had a voice in '90s post-punk, Mazzy Star may have been its strongest reincarnation.
That doesn't necessarily mean that fans of the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead will find the band to their liking, however. Mazzy Star much preferred the dark side of psychedelia, as exemplified by the most distended tracks of the Doors and the Velvet Underground. Their fuzzy guitar workouts and plaintive, folky compositions are often suffused in a dissociative ennui that is very much of the '90s, however much their textures may recall the drug-induced states of vintage psychedelia.
Although Mazzy Star was nominally a full band, they were basically the core duo of guitarist David Roback and singer Hope Sandoval with backing musicians. Roback boasts a long history in the paisley underground, with the Rain Parade and Opal. He came across Sandoval after hearing a tape she had made as part of a folky duo, Going Home. (The Going Home album that Roback subsequently produced remains unissued.) Sandoval ended up replacing Kendra Smith on Opal's final tours. After Opal dissolved, Roback and Sandoval continued to work together as Mazzy Star, and released their first album for Rough Trade, She Hangs Brightly, in 1990.
Rough Trade's U.S. branch went under shortly afterwards, but luckily Mazzy Star were picked up by Capitol, who kept the debut in print and issued their follow-up, 1993's So Tonight That I Might See. There isn't much to differentiate the two albums, though that's not necessarily a criticism. Both share similar strengths and weaknesses: appealingly dreamy and atmospheric arrangements, rambling distorted guitar workouts, and lyrics that mix the haunting and the meaninglessly vague. Tonight That I Might See had been around for about a year before it suddenly got hot, reaching the Top 40, and spinning off a small hit single, "Fade Into You." Even in the wake of this surprise success, Roback and Sandoval remained as enigmatic and aloof as their music, rarely submitting to interviews, and offering mysterious, unhelpful replies when journalists did manage to talk with them.
In 1996 they released their third album, Among My Swan, which presented a far more acoustic approach from Sandoval and Roback. They shunned the echoed, shoegaze-influenced guitars that featured heavily on much of their first two records and opted for a pared-down acoustic affair. The record also proved to be their last with major-label Capitol, and they parted ways. A year later the band went on hiatus and started work on alternative projects. Roback worked with Beth Orton on her album Central Reservation; while Sandoval appeared on the Jesus and Mary Chain's 1998 record Munki and went on to create Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions with My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O'Ciosoig. They returned briefly in 2000 for a mini-tour of Europe and in 2003 the duo performed together as part of Bert Jansch's 60th birthday celebrations in London.
A flurry of activity in the late 2000s saw their song "Into Dust" used on an advert for Virgin Media and then on a trailer for popular video game Gears of War 3, which propelled the song into the U.K. singles chart. This was shortly followed by the confirmation that Sandoval and Roback had been working on new material for a fourth album, and they released their first new material in 15 years when the double-A-sided single "Common Burn/Lay Myself Down" arrived in 2011. This was swiftly followed by a North American and European tour in 2012. The following year, details were announced for their fourth full-length record, titled Seasons of Your Day, which was released in 2013. Mazzy Star returned in 2018 with the Still EP, which included the single "Quiet, the Winter Harbour." ~ Richie Unterberger & Scott Kerr