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Opal: Up From Underground

Band: Opal.

Personnel: David Roback, guitar, vocals; Hope, vocals; Suki Ewhers, keyboards, vocals; Wolf Knapp, bass; Keith Mitchell, drums.

History: One of the most reclusive and mysterious groups to emerge from the L.A. scene, Opal is an outgrowth of a musical collaboration between two pioneers from L.A.'s neo-psychedelic music scene: Kendra Smith (formerly of Dream Syndicate) and David Roback (formerly of Rain Parade). After working on a compilation album of golden acid-rock nuggets, 1981’s “Rainy Day,” and an EP with Keith Mitchell (drummer for Monitor and Green on Red), Smith and Roback formed a group called Clay Allison a year and a half ago. The group played one live show before Roback and Smith went back underground, working on the debut Opal album, “Happy Nightmare Baby,” over an eight-month period. SST Records released the album three months ago, and it’s become a permanent fixture on college and alternative radio play lists, with an accompanying video sneaking into MTV’s “120 Minutes” and USA Cable Network’s “SNUB-TV.” The group recently opened for the revamped Pere Ubu on the East Coast, and landed the opening spot on the Jesus and Mary Chain’s current tour. Smith left the band after a recent show in Boston; when last heard from, according to SST Records, she was living in a cavern near Seattle. Roback has enlisted an equally enigmatic vocalist, Hope, and bassist Wolf Knapp, formerly of notable East Coast alternative music bands Antietam and Christmas.

Sound: On first listen, Opal’s album sounds like improvised, hallucinogenic noodling. Repeated listenings reveal a sensual, multitextured sonic love-in for the ‘80s, with songs like “Magick Power” fueled by screeching, bristling guitar lines playing against vaguely Indo-Arabian keyboards and coolly erotic vocals. Imagine an amalgamation of “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” T. Rex, Syd Barrett and Nico and you have a good reference point, though Opal’s dense textures and moody pinings truly defy easy categorization. How this personal, stylized sound can survive the cavernous acoustics of the Palladium remains to be heard.

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Shows: Opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain, Thursday at San Diego State University, Friday at the Hollywood Palladium.


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