The hiss all over La Luz’s sophomore album, Weirdo Shrine, conjures up images of shimmering sidewalks on a hot day or the hum of power lines. The sound coats the record like aluminum foil on living room windows. It’s easy to miss, only discernable at the end of tracks when the instruments fade away. But it’s an essential part of the record, lending an extra haze to the band’s already humid aesthetic.
La Luz is often categorized as surf rock, and there’s plenty here to back that label up. There’s their Dick Dale inspired guitar playing, which they cemented on their debut It’s Alive, and this new album was even recorded in a surfboard construction warehouse. Yet the quartet hails from Seattle, a region more associated with shut-ins than surfers. That’s part of what makes the band so refreshing. The past five years have marked a revival in surf-inspired rock, with acts like Wavves and Best Coast getting their starts praising the beach and California sun. La Luz veer closer to the roots of purist surf rock, but don’t fall into the genre’s cliches. In fact, whenever the ocean is mentioned in a La Luz song, it feels out of character.
Their debut did an excellent job of establishing the band, but Weirdo Shrine unveils a great act making its true emergence. The songs are fuller, richer, and shrouded in more complexities. Some may be inclined to attribute this development to producer and guitar wizard Ty Segall, but that would be misguided. His influence is prevalent throughout, especially in lead vocalist and guitarist Shana Cleveland’s embracing of fuzz and distortion. But the record’s strength is a testament to La Luz’s growth as songwriters.
It’s Alive moved slowly across a single spectrum, mixing clean guitar licks with Pulp Fiction attitude. The keyboards prevailed in the mix, while the rest of the instrumentation wavered around punk brashness. On Weirdo Shrine, La Luz entertain more subtlety. It’s not as immediate of a record; opener “Sleep Till They Die” comes in with fluidly strummed guitars and eerie harmonies, while voices crawl through your headphones like beckoning ghosts. Cleveland pleads with the listener, “Tell me anything to change their minds.” On the chorus, she opens her eyes and sees the daylight. The drums finally come in and the song launches into a euphoric stupor. Most surf rock acts beg for any excuse to frolic in the cancer-inducing heat orb we call the sun. La Luz, on the other hand, would rather fight their way back to sleep.
“I don’t wanna go out except to the ocean where the wind is loud,” Cleveland sings on closer “True Love Knows”. She’s not waxing up her board or having fun, fun, fun. She’s trying to sit on a hill and escape a relationship. The song’s title may imply some sort of hope, but it’s only half of the sentiment: “True love knows when it’s left alone.”
Drummer Marian Li Pino is a mighty force on the record, executing each song with impressive restraint. The cymbals on “I’ll Be True” crash and flourish like a vapor, a victim of the heat. Right after, on “Black Hole, Weirdo Shrine”, she rumbles into swirling rhythms and carefully executed snare rolls, only to bring things back again on the careful instrumental “Oranges”. Pair this with Cleveland’s new affinity for fuzz, and the group has completely raised the stakes.
Apparently, Cleveland was not entirely on board with throwing on fuzz effects; that new addition to La Luz’s sound took some encouragement from Segall. But her cautiousness works to the album’s benefit. When she does throw the pedals on during tracks like the ferocious “You Disappear”, it’s a welcome treat, not an overplayed new trick.
The band’s name means “the light” in Spanish, but Weirdo Shrine isn’t concerned with being a beacon. Instead, it’s an insular work that rummages through the bleakness of everyday struggles. Listening to this album during Seattle’s recent heat wave gave it even more context. Seattleites love the sun for a few days; we get to embrace a change from the gray that engulfs the rest of our calendar year. But after a few days, when the air goes above a certain temperature, all we want to do is complain about the heat. We long for those clouds to come back and deliver life-giving rain. It’s that dissatisfaction that La Luz pulls from — boredom mixed with a “grass is greener” mentality.
La Luz aren’t just operating at a higher level than their surf-influenced contemporaries, they’ve moved into a completely different headspace. Weirdo Shrine is a fog to get lost in, to put on repeat and let the tangled guitar melodies take root. They’re a light in their own darkness, guiding themselves to newer and more intricate spaces.
Essential Tracks: “Sleep Till I Die”, “I’ll Be True”, and “True Love Knows”