Though it may go without saying, dreams have long been an endless source of fascination and inspiration – not in the least, for artists. The intangibility, the mystery and not to mention, the absurdity, have made for a plethora of material over the years, especially of the musical kind. On their latest effort Floating Features, L.A. via Seattle rockers La Luz attempt to tackle the dreamscape through their sun-soaked doo-woppy California surf pop sound.
Having formed in Seattle in 2012, they recorded their debut EP Damp Face (2013) and debut full-length It’s Alive (2013) whilst there, quickly establishing a sound influenced by classic rock ‘n roll acts such as Link Wray and The Ventures, as well as 60s girl groups like The Shirelles. The group relocated to L.A., a place perhaps more geographically reflective of their sound, teaming up with garage rock revival heavyweight Ty Segall, whose production gave their second effort, 2015’s Weirdo Shrine, a somewhat rawer, more lucid feel than their debut, while still retaining some of its more washed out and hallucinatory aspects. This time around, they’ve gone with Black Key Dan Auerbach, a versatile producer known in recent years for working with the likes of Lana Del Rey, Dr. John and The Pretenders. His production gives Floating Features a sound a little more compressed, with brittle and jagged rhythm guitars against bright, jangly leads and crisp drums.
On the whole, the album isn’t hugely different from the group’s previous efforts, as they still operate with largely the same range of sounds. But it is a logical progression from their last – there are some more eclectic instrumental choices sprinkled throughout this album and the arrangements are a little more full and adventurous. Dreamy, wordless harmonies are prominent, adding to the more ethereal qualities of the record, with whispered harmonies on just about every song, as well as tremolo guitars which already sound dreamy, hallucinatory enough, especially on the slower songs – not to mention the typically surfy, Spaghetti Western guitar leads, which would not be out of place, perhaps, in a Tarantino film. The album’s title (which comes from the song “Lonely Dozer”), perhaps refers to the abstract figures and projections floating in our dreamscape, represented humorously by the inflatable objects on the cover art and brought to life by the music.
As for the songs themselves? Well, things kick off with the title track, which jumps in with an odd, stumbling rhythm and some winding guitar melodies, like the props on the cover being brought into place, before locking into gear with a confident, steady instrumental that sets up the album’s feel quite well. The melodies are punctuated with a wonky, vintage organ, which is also prominent throughout the album, often adding important texture but sometimes poking its head out with more distinct melodies. It’s promptly followed by “Cicada”, one of the singles, which rides a blurry, simple but effective two-chord groove in its verses, with distant, hazy vocal harmonies. The chorus opens things up somewhat, introducing thin, glassy piano stabs which punctuate the rhythm guitars – the same piano makes subsequent appearances further along the track list. “Loose Teeth” makes for perhaps the most lucid song so far, with the vocals a little more upfront. The organ is really key to this song, adding not only some important colour and texture, but making for some pretty melodies as well.
“Mean Dream” is where the album first really slows down, with a wistful and rainy chord progression, saturated acoustic guitars and ascending harmonies that fittingly resolve on a minor chord, only adding to the grey wistfulness. “California Finally” is the band’s own ode to their time in L.A. and to becoming comfortable with its conflicting sprawl. It is also somewhat of a homage to lead guitarist and vocalist Shana Cleveland’s favourite Velvet Underground song “Foggy Notion”. The album’s most upbeat song, it provides a steady rhythm coupled with classically surfy melodies and harmonies in the verses. “The Creature” then dips right into a dream state, slowing things down again as its sweet, laid-back instrumental belies the words which seem to refer directly to a hypnagogic episode, a hallucination of the titular creature, perhaps the one on the very right of the album cover, stepping out of the wall. “My Golden One” takes it even further and may well be one of the album’s best cuts, or at least its dreamiest – brought in with its most hypnotic moments, hazy ethereal harmonies against a bell and piano instrumental, also with the record’s most eclectic percussion – rolling tribal toms, all evoking the hyperreal feeling of a dream, something like the sun setting on a beach against a bright orange sky.
Sadly, after that run of at least solid to good songs, the album does take a dip, with some ideas being repeated. “Lonely Dozer” picks things up again, tempo-wise, but it perhaps suffers from being this late in the track list, as there is little to separate it from some of the previous more upbeat songs, not to mention it’s almost the same song as “All the Time” from two albums ago. “Greed Machine”, the longest song on the album, is kind of a rehash of “My Golden One” but with a more dour slant, making for one of the sparser songs on the album. The dramatic, dipping “aa-aahs” in the chorus do make it at least somewhat worth hearing; it is also curiously the only song on the album to fade out, rather than end suddenly, giving the title phrase an ominous connotation. But the album ends fairly strongly. The penultimate track, “Walking Into the Sun” is based around a gentle waltz rhythm coloured with pretty ringing arpeggios. It’s the kind of song that wouldn’t feel out of place on last year’s season three of Twin Peaks. “Don’t Leave Me on the Earth” ends the album on an urgent note, with dramatic pleas of “take me with you” and “don’t leave me” backed by a driving rhythm and capped off by dizzying wordless harmonies, leaving the album on something of a cliffhanger.
All in all, Floating Features is another solid and dependable effort from La Luz. While there isn’t a great amount of instrumental diversity, it gets by as they confidently embrace and ride the wave of the lightweight rhythms and increased instrumental palette. And though it is an album which comes with few bells and whistles, it does have its share of mysteries beneath the surface – and at a curt 36 minutes, it never outstays its welcome.