Beach House

You’d be excused for not knowing much about Mazzy Star. 

Seasons of Your Day is the Californian duo’s first album since 1996. The duo was never that famous, cracking the Billboard Hot 100 only once with the sublime “Fade Into You.” But its distinct dream pop sound has been hugely influential with recent acts like festival favorites Beach House. 

Mazzy Star picks back up exactly where it left off on this new album. Listening to it, you can barely tell that any time has passed since the duo’s prior work, given how fully the album embodies its signature sound. Seasons of Your Day contains 10 beautiful and fully realized tracks of hazy, country-inspired alternative rock all brought to life by singer Hope Sandoval’s dusky voice. Vocalists like Beach House’s Victoria Legrand and pop diva Lana Del Rey have tried to emulate Sandoval’s dreamy vocal style, but this album proves that after 17 years, no one does it quite like her. 

Mazzy Star’s latest album is all about mood, featuring tunes to play as the day is winding down — airy and wistful yet full of melancholy. This is a mature album from musicians who are aging gracefully. 

Later album cuts, such as “Spoon” or “Lay Myself Down,” show the group’s sound evolving into more blues-filled territories in ways that work well. The high points come early in the album, especially on the heartbreaking and quiet ballad “California.” Other times, the country influences take center stage in tracks like “Does Someone Have Your Baby Now,” on which Sandoval’s lovely voice combined with the steel guitar sounds like it could fit perfectly in a smoke-filled bar downtown. 

The best song on the album comes midway in “Common Burn,” the duo’s first comeback single that it released in 2011. While Mazzy Star plays so softly it sounds as if it’s barely there, it may be the most striking moment the duo has created since “Fade Into You” nearly 20 years ago. 

In Seasons of Your Day, the duo doesn’t miss a step since its hiatus. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another 17 years to hear from Mazzy Star again. 

Austin alternative rockers Alpha Rev will play three SXSW shows before beginning their tour in support of their new album Bloom (Photo courtesy of Darin Back). 

“Sing Loud,” the lead single from Alpha Rev’s upcoming third album Bloom, is competing with the likes of Alabama Shakes and Of Monsters and Men on the Adult Album Alternative rock charts. The Daily Texan sat down with Alpha Rev front man Casey McPherson and talked South By Southwest, Beach House and Dream Theater.

The Daily Texan: Why do you call yourself Alpha Rev? 

Casey McPherson: Because it’s hard to find a dot com that hasn’t been taken. Alpha Rev is a Greek/Latin derivative — alpha being one, rev being a great prefix — revolve, revolt, revelation, revive: its the beginning of change. 

DT: How would you describe your sound to a new set of ears?

McPherson: With this record there’s some folk influences, bold American country like Tom Petty Jackson Browne kind of stuff. And then there’s the more kind of old Radiohead, Keane, Coldplay vocal stuff. More Beatles kind of thing going. Lot of different styles. 

DT: What do you think set you apart from local Austin bands that didn’t go anywhere? 

McPherson: Work ethic. It’s just like anything else if you’re going to start your own project, whether you’re an artist or a business owner. You can have an inherited gift or wealthy parents, there’s always varying degrees of what you have to work with, but at the end of the day you have to want to do it and be willing to put in enough work. I didn’t have wealthy parents, but I had a gift for music. It’s taken a lot of hard work, tons of rehearsing, and you’ve got to wear a bunch of hats at once. 

DT: How is Bloom different from your previous records?

McPherson: A lot of it was recorded live, so there wasn’t any editing or tuning. A lot of what we did was all together at the same time. Lyrically it’s more mature, musically it’s more diverse. Lots of different styles. 

DT: Have you ever heard of a band called Beach House? 

McPherson: You know, the week before we finished the record, someone told me Beach House had an album called Bloom. I thought about changing ours to Blume but it just didn’t look right.

DT: Why do you have so many former members?

McPherson: Well, Alpha Rev is more of a collective. The only constant member of the band is me. I write all of the music; sometimes some of the guys will throw in an idea. In terms of band management and updating Twitter, Facebook, ordering CDs, I do a lot of that myself. You gotta do what needs to get done to keep moving forward.

DT: As a band that’s originally from Austin, what’s it like to compete against the influx of foreign bands during SXSW?

McPherson: Well it’s not really a competition, it’s more of an expose. If you go to a conference and walk down the booths, it’s a great place to expose your music to people in the industry. It’s not a place to get a record deal or for all of your dreams to come true, but it’s a great place to showcase your music to people in the industry from all over the world that would never hear you unless you were in their city. 

DT: Austin recommendations for out-of-towners?

McPherson: Barton Springs. Salt Lick. The iPic theater at The Domain. 

DT: Why do you play music?

McPherson: Ever since I was a child I knew it was what I was supposed to do with my life. I believe music is spiritual in nature, in terms of how it has an effect on our psyche and physical bodies. I do it for my own health and hopefully to contribute to the health of others.

DT: What’s this I hear about Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater)? 

McPherson: I play in a side project with him and Steve Morse from Deep Purple. It’s a pop-prog band called Flying Colors. Mike was a fan of Endochine and Alpha Rev and asked me to be the singer for his band. I’ve been having a great time and I’m’ learning a lot. And he’s a motherfucker of a drummer. 

Beach House — “Myth”

On their first single, “Myth,” off their soon-to-be-released third album, Bloom, Beach House doesn’t stray too far from the sound that has come to define them: airy melodies that soar. That may be playing it safe, but then Alex Scally begins playing his twinkling and mesmerizing guitar chords and you fall deeply into this dream-pop landscape. Yet, as always, Victoria Legrand’s vocals leave the biggest mark. Heavy, smoky and deep with the weight of expectation and hope all bottled in there, her vocals swoon, as she calls out to “help me make it.” It’s simply sublime.

Nas — “The Don”

Nas proclaimed that hip-hop was dead in 2006, seeing the genre overcome with ego and greed, and that was saying something from a rapper of his intelligence. However, on “The Don,” Nas doesn’t make too much of a case for being able to save it himself. Nas doesn’t want to talk about politics or societal issues when he could very well talk about himself.

He declares at one point, “Bottles on bottles with sparklers surround my team.” It’s familiar ground for hip-hop and done better before (see: “Watch the Throne”). However, the sound of the song is hypnotic. Produced by Salaam Remi, Da Internz and Heavy D with samples from Supa Cat, “The Don” is a slice of dancehall against hard, classic hip-hop beats.

Garbage — “Blood for Poppies”

Though they once dominated alternative radio in the ’90s, there’s something a bit jarring about hearing Garbage unabashedly return to that decade on their first single in seven years, “Blood for Poppies.” Instead of merely returning to their own sound, Garbage has instead coopted ’90s pop-rock.

The industrial beats of past Garbage songs are still there. But the guitars chug along with power chords. On the chorus, the guitar soars and Shirley Manson almost begs you to sing along, repeating, “I don’t know why they are calling on the radio.” It’s a hook that recalls Smashmouth of “All-Star” fame. And yet, it works for Garbage. As they head into their third decade, they’ve surrendered and just want to have some fun — ’90s style.

Rascal Flatts — “Changed”

Does there come a point when you should stop badmouthing something so terribly awful? Because no matter how painfully obvious Rascal Flatts’ music is and no matter how much criticism is thrown at them, they’ll still release songs like “Changed.” Lead singer Jay DeMarcus continues to wail out saccharine lyrics — this time about being a better man — against slow and clean country-tinged guitars and drums that are free of grit or tension.

Of course, they aren’t doing anything differently than any traditional pop act would do by repeating a successful formula. But maybe Rascal Flatts could have taken some advice from this song and actually shake it up.