If there were an award for being the coolest band in the world for an entire decade, La Luz would probably have won it in 2022. There are plenty of reasons why this would have been the case: they’re currently a trio (the magic rock formation); they’ve been a girl band since the very beginning; their debut album in 2013 was called It’s Alive, just like The Ramones’ best album, who maintained the title of ‘coolest band in the world’ for their entire career; they’re based in California, and they play surf music.
This music was once, back in 60′s California, the coolest music in the world. Nowadays, a good surf band can’t just dress in 60′s clothes and mimic the sound of Link Wray or Dick Dale. Fortunately, La Luz is much smarter than that, throwing in some pop-inspired melodies, psychedelic undertones, western guitars and contemporary indie-rock minimalism.
This band has many strings to its bow; just look at the diverse solo discography of their singer and guitarist, Shana Cleveland. La Luz is far from her first rodeo. She played with The Curious Mystery in the mid-2000s, an aptly named experimental folk band that sometimes sounded a bit like the Cowboy Junkies (though more junkies than cowboy). In 2011, she recorded the material for her first solo album in Michigan (her hometown), which was released four years later under the name Oh Man, Cover The Ground. This record introduced the key elements of Shana Cleveland’s sound: acoustic guitars led astray from their folk roots coupled with vocals and harmonies that sound like they’re sung by a girl who struggled to get up that morning (or perhaps forgot to go to bed the night before). Her music is defined by complete freedom and abandon, pushing what it means to be cool to its limits.
After Night Of The Worm Moon in 2019, Shana Cleveland is back with Manzanita. This is her richest and most carefully arranged album, complete with cello, organ and a general harmony that was absent from her previous records. Manzanita is her most dreamlike release, too. Whilst La Luz represents the light, Manzanita is the realm of shadows, spells and dreams, full of cottony songs edged with thorns. Shana Cleveland explores another side of California here, one that’s far from the sun, sand and surf. Instead, she takes inspiration from the white light of winter and how exhausting life can be on the west coast. She takes on a spectral form from the very first track, “A Ghost”. However, the beautifully tongue-in-cheek music video confirms that she isn’t here to scare people, but to sing entrancing lullabies to the big kids who still love indie music.