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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2001

HIGH NOTES

The Warm Inventions: 'Bavarian Fruit Bread'


The late, lamented Mazzy Star was -- like all quiet rock bands -- a classic case of "love 'em or hate 'em." They never seemed to be having a good time on stage or on record (a song called "happy" being particularly ironic), they loathed stardom and media attention, and it seemed all they could do was to release an album every three years or so. But for their fans, their reverb-drenched sound of rainy-day heartbroken blues had no equal.

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Mazzy Star -- like the band they were born of, Opal -- split in a cloud of acrimony and willful hearts. While nothing has been heard from guitarist David Roback, chanteuse Hope Sandoval has re-emerged with a new band, The Warm Inventions, formed with ex-My Bloody Valentine drummer Colm O'Ciosoig. Their debut album, "Bavarian Fruit Bread," eschews the Velvets/Doors-inspired psychedelic side of Mazzy and plunges further into their realm of minimal, acoustic arrangements.

Hope and Colm make folk rock with a touch of mystery around the edges, thanks to some elegantly subtle production tricks. Think Nick Drake with Brian Eno at the controls. They take the acoustic guitars, keyboards and harmonicas of folk and submerge them in clouds of fuzzy guitar echo and washes of cymbal. Out of this muted, warm soundscape emerge Hope's vocals, with a startling, erotic clarity, like she's purring secrets straight into your ear.

Hope has always had a voice that would be illegal if you could bottle it, but her songwriting skills have become both subtler and more devastatingly effective. Her songs here work like time-release capsules; the first few listens, nothing happens, and then around listen No. 5, you're suddenly enveloped in an exquisite, narcotic haze. Listen to how she does it on "Charlotte"; like Lennon, her voice lingers on the same plaintive note or two until, finally, midword, she delivers the high note, and it's like a shooting star that pulled out of its death plunge and decided to head back to the heavens. There's hope yet.



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