La Luz – News Of The Universe

A beginning and an end for the psychedelic surf outfit...

It’s been just over a decade since La Luz’s infectiously wonky take on surf rock and do-wop first graced our ears. With debut ‘It’s Alive,’ we were introduced proper to a quartet who made hazy jams for the trendsetters amongst us. With a mix of Dick Dale, Link Wray, and Takeshi Terauchi cited as influences, they arrived at a sound that was effortlessly cool with a capital C. The following years have seen the band wisely expand their USP with psychedelic elements and 60s pop to produce the kind of tunes that’d pair well with a black-and-white French movie.

‘News Of The Universe’ sees the band, namely frontwoman Shana Cleveland, sail La Luz into new waters while letting go of the past. This fifth LP sees the last contributions from long-time members Alice Sandahl (keys) and Lena Simon (bass), leaving Cleveland the only founding member standing. Couple this with a Sub Pop deal; it’s clear the band has more bankability than ever and increased creative freedom, Cleveland solely now at the reins. The result is a darkly sweet record, inspired by some heavy themes – cancer, death, motherhood – but delivered with a newfound confidence. 

If the group’s earlier albums could be easily described as sun-kissed, there is something somewhat nocturnal about the twelve songs offered here. ‘Strange World’ may start with a familiar garage rock template to get pulses going, but this soon melts away to enter Stereolab territory before a menacing breakdown invokes guitarist John McGeoch’s work with Siouxsie and the Banshees. Icy indeed. The following ‘Dandelions’ revels in frantic energy, Sandahl’s keyboard work adding a brilliantly demented edge to the track’s catchy hooks. 

On ‘Poppies’, Cleveland sings of crushing weight and German carbon capture machines with a sense of tired melancholy. It’s the track that best captures the spirit of this latest album: melodic, experimental, and wistful. Still, this is no bummer record; La Luz channels enough playfulness to reward repeat listens from those who like their tunes off-kilter. For instance, ‘Good Luck With Your Secret’ has the band invoke PIXIES during their surf rock indebted early 90s period. This choice makes sense, considering La Luz’s origins, but it also reveals a band happy to balance on the edge of beauty and madness. 

That said, there’s generally less immediacy on this record than seen on previous albums, and this will no doubt turn off a few fair-weather fans. The flip side is a band pushing its boundaries, grabbing some serious Warp artist vibes, and evolving into something more cinematic and mature. This is no longer the band you enjoy while downing a cold one on the beach. No, this noise is for the smoke-filled flats of art students and society’s outcasts. 

The La Luz we knew is dead, but in its place is a band well-timed to enjoy the full-blown psych explosion that’s grabbed the indie world these past few years. ‘News of the Universe’ marks the beginning of an exciting chapter, one that’ll hopefully appeal to a new set of fans. 

7/10

Words: Sam Walker-Smart

Related: Foundations – La Luz

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