Every Beach Boys Album, Ranked

La Luz – News of the Universe
Sub Pop

It’s tempting to argue that La Luz matured in classic psychedelic-pop fashion. You know the trajectory: Young band emerges with fun, sunshiney gems about afternoon head-trips and summer love, then grows up; adulthood brings growing pains, tragedy, ambition, bigger budgets, and genuinely meaningful statements about ecology and the human condition. Musicians who once smiled widely refuse to appear happy in promo images. Civil-war beards ensue.

But La Luz, formed in Seattle in 2012, streaked their reverb with brown acid from the start. The garage-rockin’ propulsion was there, but the slanted, ghostly harmonies underscored a deep and affecting melancholy. The band, fronted by singer-guitarist Shana Cleveland, seemed to understand the very real pathos of doo-wop that is too often concealed by nostalgia. 

Life happened. In 2013, a harrowing traffic accident on tour nearly killed them. Cleveland became a mother not long before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She also struck out on her own, releasing one of 2023’s best singer-songwriter LPs, Manzanita. The La Luz personnel shifted, to the point where she’s now the sole founding member. But News of the Universe, the group’s first for Sub Pop, is committed to expanding and sharpening the finely molded La Luz aesthetic. In other words, it doesn’t feel like the next Cleveland solo record. 

It also feels like progress. Produced by Maryam Qudus (who records solo music under the name Spacemoth), News boasts robust, controlled sonics and arrangements, as if more money was used with good taste. Musically it widens with grace, too: Bits and pieces of krautrock and prog, vintage synth-pop and New Wave, and ’70s pop-rock thread the psych flawlessly. An overture of Beach Boys yearning begins the LP, and it ends with a breathlessly sweet folk exercise, which is anticipated by a trip-hoppy, Eastern-flecked instrumental that should function as a quirky interlude but tugs at the heartstrings instead. 

The zeniths, like “Dandelions,” “Always in Love,” and “Poppies,” are poetic, melody-rich stunners. On the latter, Cleveland’s lyrics approach a literary poise that will make you misty-eyed: “All this year I thought I’d disappear under the weight / Of troubles stacking end to end / One or two, the first ones to break through and now / Across the field the poppies come again.” This is not groovy indie finery; there’s a rock-as-high-art vision at work here. GRADE: A

You can check out News of the Universe at Bandcamp and elsewhere.

Sub Pop (Illustrator: Mabel Esteban)

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