Approximately a year ago, Sam Valdez quietly launched her career, introducing herself with two dazzling singles – “Hours” and “Don’t Want To Be Yours Anymore”. Comparisons to Angel Olsen, The War On Drugs, and Hope Sandoval were inevitable and unsurprising since they are three of her influences. She is not, however, an imitator nor a follower, but rather she melds the best elements of these artists into her own vintage but unique sound, which is fully revealed on her stunning debut EP, Mirage.
The record is the music of the Laurel Canyon-era modernized and taken to even dreamier heights. Taken to places that Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, or the Mamas & Papas could not have imagined. Opener “It’s Alright” is the first taste of Valdez’s breathtaking artistry. Streams of a steel guitar filter through the song and draw you in. Valdez’s stunning vocals, though, are what grab hold and cast a spell. Her songwriting, too, has an air of poetry to it, which isn’t surprising since the Los Angeles resident lists Sylvia Plath as another of her idols. In this case, she weaves a cinematic tale of an enduring love and letting go.
“Now there is only dirt where the garden was.
We all grew so fast to die so young,
So you let me sleeping in my body clothes,
Keeping me with this feeling before I let go (before I let go).”
Like Mazzy Star, Valdez spins a gorgeous dream with “Farther Away”. As the delicate, hazy melody flutters, Valdez’s stirring vocals reveal the inner soul of a wanderer traversing the Mojave Desert. Of a young woman grappling with the changing times, her unforgivable surroundings, and her own internal transformation. This difficult journey, however, is an unforgettably stunning. Valdez further channels her inner Hope Sandoval on the dazzlingly woozy “Funeral”. Psychedelic vibes intertwine with Americana tones to form a soundscape that feels like the Mojave Desert at dusk, where the last of the sun’s light turns the arid flatland into a spectacle of brilliant life and color. Valdez walks alone to escape the maddening world and the places and people that only create pain. Here she proclaims, “I’m loyal to my solitude”.
Valdez strips everything back on the beautiful “Carnival”, which has an air of Joni Mitchell. Featuring predominantly a finger-picking guitar, feathery percussion, and her ethereal vocals, Valdez reveals a moment of loss that occurs in a place that should offer joy. A day that forever scars her, and now she tries to anticipate every possibility. As she proclaims, “I never know if a storm is near and it scares me”. While she yearns for what is and attempts to move on, she wonders what is on the “Other Side”. A gorgeous dream-folk approach envelopes the air while Valdez mournfully wonders what has happened to the one to whom she said goodbye. Wonders if she can move on. She elegantly states:
“It’s almost been a year since we left this place,
But I don’t know really how to feel when we try to start to fake.
Everywhere I look you turn the other cheek
Because you don’t want to be part of the future that is looking at me.
So let’s stay here, crazy.
It’s better than knowing the truth.
Tomorrow I’ll be waiting
And you’ll be on the move.”
Valdez, too, is on the move. She is the future, and she has the potential to be one of the great singer-songwriters of her generation. Mirage is just the first step to this inevitable outcome.
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