La Luz: News Of The Universe [Album Review]

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La Luz
News Of The Universe
Sub Pop Records [2024]

Album Overview: La Luz, formed in 2012 by guitarist and songwriter Shana Cleveland, is a California-based indie band known for their ability to blend various musical influences. Over the years, they have become beloved for their unique sound that merges confident surf riffs with harmonious vocals reminiscent of doo-wop and folk. The band has seen changes in its lineup, with drummer Audrey Johnson joining for this album, and long-time members Lena Simon and Alice Sandahl making their final contributions. News of the Universe is La Luz’s fifth full-length album, inspired by Shana Cleveland’s personal turmoil following a breast cancer diagnosis. The record reflects this period of upheaval and transformation, capturing a sense of both loss and new beginnings. La Luz continues to move into a much more mature psychedelic groove on News of the Universe that is an easy sit-back-and-absorb type of record. It is an album that demands multiple listens, as it finds the group continuing to expand the use of their keyboards, which really started to take a new turn on 2021’s self-titled record. La Luz, and Cleveland specifically, sound completely at ease here, with noticeably less urgency than found on early albums. This current state of the band sets up gorgeous-sounding landscapes that evolve and grow well beyond their song structure borders.

Musical Style: The album features a blend of dark and beautiful psychedelia, characterized by energetic and urgent sounds. It integrates influences from baroque pop, chamber pop, and elements of space-themed auditory effects. This record continues the band’s tradition of mixing heavy, intricate guitar work with angelic vocal harmonies.

Evolution of Sound: Compared to their previous work, News of the Universe introduces a sense of ease and intensity, with compositions that are more complex and layered. The introduction of new production techniques, courtesy of producer Maryam Qudos, and the inclusion of synthesized sounds contribute to a more expansive and cosmic feel.

Artists with Similar Fire: Listeners might find similarities between La Luz’s sound on this album and artists like Beach House, Kikagaku Moyo, and Warpaint, who are also known for their psychedelic and ethereal qualities combined with strong, emotive songwriting. Several of the keyboard arrangements even evoke the style of Stereolab.

Pivotal Tracks: Key tracks on the album include “Strange World” with its frantic rhythms, the title track News of the Universe featuring a complex and loud opening riff, “Poppies,” which portrays a vivid, doom-laden atmosphere, and one of my favorite songs on the album, “Always in Love,” which stands out as a heartfelt ballad with an insanely memorable guitar solo.

Lyrical Strength: The lyrics on News of the Universe are deeply personal and reflective, often grappling with themes of mortality, change, and rebirth. Shana Cleveland’s writing is marked by vivid imagery and emotional depth, drawing on her observations of nature and life cycles around her home. The album’s narrative oscillates between moments of fear and moments of joy, creating a rich tapestry of human experience.

La Luz (2021) / Floating Features (2018) / Weirdo Shrine (2015) / It’s Alive (2013)

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Christopher Anthony
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