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There is a haunting beauty about each track on Weirdo Shrine, the sophomore effort from the Seattle-based band La Luz. This darkness is honestly not much of a surprise as the band nearly did not get the opportunity to record this LP thanks to a near-death experience while supporting their debut, It's Alive. A patch of black ice sent their tour van into the path of a similarly out of control tractor-trailer, which then pummelled their vehicle. The van was destroyed, as was their gear, but La Luz escaped with their lives. But as a result of this harrowing experience, their Ty Segall-produced follow-up takes a decidedly dark approach to surf music, casting the whole record in an intoxicating noir glow.
From the opening slink of 'Sleep Till They Die,' which immediately grabs the hear thanks to the voodoo-inspired lead vocal from frontwoman and lead guitarist Shana Cleveland, to the bittersweet and affecting closing offered by the closing track, 'True Love Knows,' Weirdo Shrine is one of the year's most lush records. Rippling surf guitars, ghostly doo-wop vocal harmonies and even the odd organ here and there help create an intense atmosphere, like a crackling inferno against the pitch black of early morning.
Even the tongue-tied affection of 'I Can't Speak' emits an eerie glint, like an early '60s love song slowed to half tempo and performed underwater. The Dick Dale-esque riffs on tracks like 'Hey Papi' and 'You Disappear' get a similar treatment, with the added perk of being supported by exceptional stick work from Marian Li Pino, whose washy cymbals give each track a decidedly older feel. Pino's turn behind the kit is unquestionably one of the year's best drumming performances. Tracks such as 'I Wanna Be Alone (With You)' are elevated from good to great in large thanks to the inventiveness of Pino's play.
But it is the album's oddly affectionate and attractive takes on the macabre consequences of death, the kind the band managed to so narrowly escape, that propels Weirdo Shrine into the top-tier records of 2015. The chilling melodies crafted by Cleveland pull from the territories of darkwave and post-punk while always managing to meld them with the band's signature noir-surf sound. And with Segall dragging the four ladies down to San Francisco in order to turn up the distortion, the record also carries a far more lo-fi feel to it, bringing an added dimension of intimacy to its vivacious, cinematic sound.
Like their fellow Hardly Art signees, Chastity Belt, who also enjoyed an enormous sophomore success this year, this is a quantum leap forward for La Luz. While part of this may get accredited to the seemingly gilded touch of Segall, whose encouragement to play with fuzz undoubtedly helped give the record more than a little character, this LP is clearly the product of four immensely talented musicians with a clear vision of asphalt soaked in rain and asphalt, the fears of death reflected upon by shining a flashlight through a hazy, ominously beautiful mist.
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