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Jorge Velez - Roman Birds Music Album Reviews

Inspired by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, this five-track ambient wonder finds the New York producer letting pulses and motifs overlap until the tracks resemble the inside of a lava lamp.
Jorge Velez has long been prolific, but that’s been especially true in the past few years. Like many underground electronic musicians, the New York producer has taken advantage of the internet’s self-publishing opportunities—in particular, the direct-to-fans platform Bandcamp—to sidestep label gatekeepers, streaming services, and crowded retailers. (Velez’s Bandcamp page currently numbers 26 releases.) Velez first gained recognition a dozen years ago with blippy disco derivatives for labels like Italians Do It Better, but his output has gradually become more esoteric and inward-looking. He’s still capable of ebullient club tracks, as last year’s excellent Forza attests, but many of his long, undulating machine jams sound like late-night missives to himself.

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Mazzy Star - Still EP Music Album Reviews

Mazzy Star - Still EP Music Album Reviews
The dream-pop legends breathe new life into old songs on a slight, unsurprising, but reliably lovely EP of dreamy desert blues.
For a band that moves at Mazzy Star’s glacial pace, progress must be measured in steps and inches rather than leaps and bounds. Still may be their first release in four years, but its four songs include an alternate version of the title track of their 1993 classic So Tonight That I Might See and two compositions that appear to have been kicking around since at least 2000. Nothing on the EP would sound out of place amid the dreamy desert blues of the band’s 28-year-old debut album, She Hangs Brightly.

That’s not to say that the Still is simply a retread of old ground. Opener “Quiet, the Winter Harbor” uses piano as its lead instrument, with David Roback’s guitar making its bow in the song’s second minute. This isn’t entirely without precedent. Uncut has reported that they performed the track live as early as 2000. In an audio clip apparently recorded at a London show the same year, the band plays a gorgeous, piano-based arrangement of “Look on Down From the Bridge” from 1996’s Among My Swan. But the EP’s lead single does mark a new and enchanting chapter in Mazzy Star’s recorded output.

The piano gives “Quiet” the feel of a muted torch song, its irresistible melody dampened by Hope Sandoval’s hushed delivery and Roback’s pointed restraint. In other hands—Adele’s, say—its straight-from-the-heart vocals might have ramped up to the kind of overwrought climax that sucks every last nuance into its emotional vortex. But Sandoval is as understated as ever. Her soft power precludes raising her voice, and it makes “Quiet” sound like a private plea to an absent-hearted lover. Roback adds twinkling touches of guitar, his simple melodic lines complementing rather than overpowering Sandoval’s words.

The only apparently new track on the EP, “Still,” marks another first for Mazzy Star: It is the least melodic piece they’ve ever committed to tape. Throughout their career, Sandoval has sporadically employed the same vocal style that’s present on the song, walking the line between spoken word and the drawl of a more ethereal Jim Morrison. Usually, this minimal approach is backed by enough instrumental dramatics to carry the song. But on “Still,” Sandoval’s vocal plays over a one-chord acoustic guitar thrash and overlapping violin drones, creating a fever-dream atmosphere that, while novel, sounds a bit like being laid up with the flu feels.

At just two minutes long, the song works best as an extended intro to the EP’s last track, the eight-minute “Ascension Version” of “So Tonight That I Might See.” This alternate take is one of the most savage listens in the Mazzy Star catalog, led by ominous organ notes and guitar feedback and ending in the kind of fuzzy guitar freakout a band might indulge in at the last show of an arduous tour. You can imagine this all working well in a live setting, where the audience could feel the crackle of the guitar pulse through the air. On record, though, it fails to deliver the transcendent experience a word like “ascension” promises.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the best track on Still is also the least groundbreaking. “That Way Again,” with its bluesy, country-rock feel, is classic Mazzy Star. Live recordings of the song from the band’s 2000 tour document a simple yet affecting acoustic lament that gently picks through the ashes of a failed romance. The new recording remains faithful to those early performances, adding only plaintive guitar lines that bring to mind the Rolling Stones circa Sticky Fingers.The result is a luscious late-night tearjerker that’s sure to earn a spot on cathartic breakup mixes. Mazzy Star’s pace may be slow—and Still may feel slight—but “That Way Again” is proof that their hearts still burn brightly.

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