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Album Review – La Luz: Weirdo Shrine

The album cover for Weirdo Shrine by La Luz

When Ty Segall bows down to a band, pay attention to that band.

I’m not speaking figuratively. Last year Ty Segall brought Seattle surf rock fourpiece La Luz on tour with him as the opening band. During his show at the Bluebird Theater in Denver, he invited them on stage for the encore and began literally bowing to frontwoman Shana Cleveland as she played. If Ty Segall bending at the waist in admiration and adoration doesn’t make you sit up and listen, I don’t know what will.

Two years removed from their debut, La Luz’s Segall-produced sophomore effort, Weirdo Shrine, is as good a reason to sit up and listen as any. The band delve into the nuances of their self-described “surf noir” sound, aiming for something resembling Lauren Bacall strumming a guitar on the set of The Big Sleep. It’s a slow burn of an album, the intelligent and complicated antidote to an over saturated subgenre.

They escape the trappings of surf rock by not dwelling on it too long, opting instead for everything else that made the sixties worthwhile. The group mine the psychedelic spirals first twisted by the Thirteenth Floor Elevators and the Zombies, the intricate doo-wop harmonies of the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes, and the work of writer Richard Brautigan, whose poem “Oranges” inspired the instrumental track of the same name on the record. Kinks-influenced moments abound, especially on the aptly-titled “With Davey”, a kaleidoscopic wandering that bends guitars into the shapes of sitars when turned just so.

While many of Weirdo Shrine’s individual tracks spin into glorious being on their own (“Hey Papi” cuts a majestically imposing figure in under two minutes using a darkened, reverb-tinged lick), La Luz focus most intently on the album as a singular experience and work of art. The record unveils itself and progresses with extreme concentration, consumed with creating an encompassing setting and narrative. Album opener “Sleep till They Die” stands alone as an okay example of neo-psych and shoegaze, but becomes indispensable to establishing the mood and pace within its larger context.

La Luz don’t always seem confident in their ability as songwriters – “Black Hole, Weirdo Shrine” hurries through its riffs and bridge so quickly that the final minute feels like a formality – but they’re a force to be reckoned with as musicians. Drummer Marian Li Pino proves her exceptional ability for spicing up rhythm track after track after track, her beats only further enhanced when rolling alongside bassist Lena Simon on “I Wanna Be Alone (With You).” Alice Sandahl weaves her synthesizer through Cleveland’s guitarwork to create Weirdo Shrine’s second-most impressive collaborative effort, edged out of first place only by the complex, four-part harmonies drifting through the entire record.

Between their penchant for instrumentals and refusal to let any song surpass four minutes, La Luz shroud Weirdo Shrine in a dark mystery, never revealing their secrets. Even at is boldest and most intense, the record slinks through the shadows and out of the speakers, leaving just traces of its presence behind. These are songs composed beneath the glow of the neon sign of Rick’s Café Américain, the crashing waves just audible in the distance. This is the soundtrack to the dreams you almost remember, which is exactly the key to Weirdo Shrine’s strange appeal. Bow down indeed.

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Elle is a writer and art student based in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @ellecoxon

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