photo & text by nacrowe
what i love about the CALIFORNIA-by-way-of-WASHINGTON STATE INDIE ROCK band LA LUZ' sound is how they essentially explore the HAUNTING POSSIBILITIES of SURF MUSIC from the early 1960s. just tons of reverb, delay and clean tone that are used not to necessarily show off virtuosic DEXTERITY, but as a means of increasing the EMOTIONAL QUOTIENT and AFFECTING PSYCHOLOGICAL POTENTIAL inherent in that unique SONIC TEXTURE. essentially they are deconstructing and RECONFIGURING our expectations as listeners when hearing that sound. its a COMPELLING and UNIQUE sound and their third album, the DAN AUERBACH (of THE BLACK KEYS fame) produced FLOATING FEATURES (HARDLY ART, 2018) is a great example. STELLAR tracks that explore this dynamic include "CICADA," "MEAN DREAM," "THE CREATURE," "CALIFORNIA FINALLY," "FLOATING FEATURES" and "DON'T LEAVE ME ON THE EARTH."
a key aspect of this sound is undoubtedly singer/lead guitarist SHANA CLEVELAND. most singers have their vocals pushed forward in a mix, but throughout their discography LA LUZ have adroitly chosen to have hers pushed back. the effect is that her FRAGILE YEARNING and DEEPLY AFFECTING vocals are enveloped in a COCOON OF SOUND. it renders her voice as another instrument and key ingredient in a seductively MASSIVE sound. one that is on equal pairing with ALICE SANDAHL's keyboard patches and even CLEVELAND's own NIMBLE and highly MEMORABLE guitar leads. it is a sound reminiscent of how GIRL GROUPs like THE CRYSTALS, THE SHIRELLES and, most famously, THE RONETTES were mixed by PHIL SPECTOR back in the 1960s with his famous "WALL OF SOUND" production technique.
that is not to say that this band is retro-minded or overly concerned with the past. as stated before, LA LUZ is very much a REIMAGINING of the classic reverb-drenched SURF MUSIC made famous by THE VENTURES, LINK WRAY and DICK DALE; sonically similar but coming from a completely different DIY PERSPECTIVE. definitely worth checking out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
spending my early formative years in southern california, i have a soft spot for SURF MUSIC or really anything that reminds me of summertime at the beach in general. what makes this los angeles-by-way-of-seattle indie rock band LA LUZ so compelling is that they managed to provide a really cool spin on that sound by relocating it emotionally to a place of vulnerability rather than celebration.
now i recognize that composer BRIAN WILSON from what I read in the excellent biography CATCH A WAVE (RODALE BOOKS, 2007) reconfigured the music of his youth, namely vocal quartets, by utilizing rich harmonies and PHIL SPECTOR-esque "wall of sound" production techniques as a means by which to give expression to his intense feelings of alienation and social anxiety. in this manner the music of THE BEACH BOYS is actually quite tragic in that it relates a fantasy that is almost a carnival-esque inversion of his actual mindset. culturally however the music he championed and ingeniously constructed is the soundtrack to simple idyllic fantasies of long weekends, sunshine and bikinis.
perhaps LA LUZ recognized the potential to use SURF MUSIC as a means of transmitting alienation since they play off expectations associated with the sound of reverb-drenched, staccato single-note run embellished with the full-throated sound of a Hammond organ. vocal melodies, often as a chorus, are delivered deadpan almost inviting you to listen even closer to the lyrics despite the lushness of the sound carrying on around you.
this band is an excellent example of bending a sound to your own will and make it your own. i deeply enjoy their music and recommend it highly. please check them out.