Catch the Calm Wave
Seattle’s La Luz are off to a ferocious start. Formed a mere three years ago, the all-girl quartet already have two albums and an EP under their belt, the most recent of which was produced by none other than alternative rockstar of the moment Ty Segall. This may come as a surprise, because Weirdo Shrine isn’t coated in Segall’s trademarked garage rock fuzz with all the instruments mixed at the same volume, featuring tom drums that sound like firecrackers through a walkie talkie. Rather, the production is pristine and marked by the same subtlety that permeates Shana Cleveland and co.’s blend of retro ’60s surf rock and downbeat indie pop. Layered vocal harmonies abound about in the group’s 2015 offering, all draped with whammy-fueled, string-bent barre chords on cuts like “Oranges” and “You Disappear,” the purest instance of that standby bass-drenched surf rock guitar tone and its trusty pal the ride cymbal doing what they do best before they quickly give way to sleepy, girl on the drums indie rock bop.
The website of Sub Pop subsidiary Hardly Art claims that Segall was brought in to help “capture the band’s restless live energy” and the band “chose to leave in any happy accidents and spur-of-the-moment flourishes that occurred while recording.” Whether they’re referring to pre-thought out crowd-pleasing antics (like the triplet fills that fall out of time to keep listeners of “You Disappear” on their toes), or the in-studio spontaneity of the skittering, ever-shifting percussion of “I Wanna Be Alone With You,” the performative push is noticeably firmer than on It’s Alive. Something that sounds like a violin even peeks its head into the fray in “With Davey,” and now we’re supposed to believe that might not even have been on purpose. Several parts of Weirdo Shrine hit a weird, Quentin Tarantino/Pulp Fiction sweet spot with their combination of jangly acoustic guitars and surf rock dive-bombs. The two-minute Ventures-esque instrumental “Hey Papi” would have fit perfectly in between Dick Dale and the Lively Ones while Vincent Vega flew around L.A. in his red convertible. “Black Hole, Weirdo Shrine” even has a bit of an old Tex-Mex rattle and stomp to it with the unrelenting snare rolls.
There’s plenty of straightforward, subverted surf rock to soak up as well. “I Can’t Speak” could be a pre-Pet Sounds era Beach Boys cut with such heavy doo-wop influence. “I’ll Be True” comes complete with lyrics that could only ever be written unironically in a pre-Watergate America (No one else treats me like you do / And I’ll be true just as long as you want me to). Eh, so La Luz is no Radiohead when it comes to words. But then again it’s kind of nice to listen to a niched alternative rock band without having to sift through pretentiously cerebral lyrics. Looking at you, Titus Andronicus. Meanwhile, the less brash “Don’t Wanna Be Anywhere” floats hazy little dream pop anchored by a loose but lucid backbeat.
Coining a genre specifically for your own band like “deathpunk” or “trash pop” or “freak folk” is kind of akin to giving yourself a nick name; it rarely sticks and usually comes off as pathetically conceited. But La Luz call their music “surf noir,” and it works – their guitars are surf-y but not sunny. Their hazy but hard-boiled sound is painted in black and white rather than the warm color palette of a west coast sunset. La Luz drain the hyperactivity from a music named after a physically strenuous aquatic activity without draining any of the fun.