From those first few guitar bars giving way to harmonized backing vocals, the retro garage hued influence is clear. The guitar plays an articulate line equal parts Brill Building and Huntington Beach, those backing vocals toe the line between saccharine and haunting. The drums are precise but never stray too far from their punk rock roots, and the vocals come in strong if uncertain at times.
It’s those moments of uncertainty that become intriguing. Recorded following a heavy schedule of touring following a near fatal car accident, La Luz’s Weirdo Shrine is a document of this time as well as their process of coming to terms with the event. They experiment with fuzz (no surprise as the album was produced by Ty Segall), they explore themes more personal, and… they kind of sound like they’re playing down the hall on your friend’s hi-fi.
I will admit I got hung up on the production. I’m a well-documented fan of feedback in all its forms, but it comes across less as added layers but people playing far away in a poorly-soundproofed room. It doesn’t allow one to say something lazy like ‘the guitar effects temper the overall sweetness’ (a statement especially irrelevant when one considers that the girl group traditions from which they’re borrowing were rarely as cloying as people tend to think), but it does make me feel like I found the tracks on worn-out 45s and having cleaned them have attempted to play them for the first time only to find they’re pretty far gone. They’re not completely indiscernible and there is an undeniable presence, but it’s difficult to tease out what precisely is happening.
I’m not saying that every aspect of a work need be wholly accessible; I do think it should be assembled deliberately. It is dark, it is dreamy, the songs flow into one another, but one wonders why the references to old pop songs when the songs themselves share few characteristics with such works. The comparison to make here is of course to The Shangri-La’s various pop melodramas; those all had hooks, these do not. In fear of reducing their stories to soap operas they’ve made it difficult to follow any plot line. There’s an aloofness to which the listener wants to connect but feels distanced. If this is a musical attempt to exemplify the type of defamiliarization whereby one forgets one is in a car or driving until one crashes, that’s an interesting starting point but it doesn’t follow through.
That having been said, there’s something about this album that is really compelling. In articulating my quibbles with it I seem to have found no way of deducing what it is that keeps drawing me back, nonetheless, there is something intangibly exciting. It’s a coherent collection that showcases their current state; a testament to their ability to return to the studio and explore new avenues.
Weirdo Shrine is available now on Hardly Art.