While there has never been a shortage of groups mining rock-and-roll’s past for inspiration to the point of straight reenactment, the last several decades have seen these types of groups proliferate in seemingly absurd numbers. Before, groups looking to repurpose elements of early rock, surf and doo-wop were largely confined to an underground subset or the ghetto of garage rock revival. Following the 2001 explosion of “The” bands bringing these sounds up from the underground and squarely into the public consciousness, it became hard not to hear these elements.
Despite a move towards the polar opposite in synthesizers and electronic beats in recent years, there still remain a number of underground artists operating with a decidedly throwback mentality. From Best Coast and Dum Dum Girls on the female-fronted end of the spectrum to Ty Segall and the Fresh and Onlys on the male-dominated end, these artists are redolent of earlier influences, sounds and styles that long since fell out of favor with the larger listening public.
But while the sounds may have fallen out with much of contemporary music, it still continues to resonate with audiences today, some three and four decades removed from the original incarnation. That these styles continue to find an audience speaks not only to their quality, but also their inherent appeal to those who enjoy the relative simplicity of early rock-and-roll’s aesthetic and instrumentation.
For the Seattle-based group La Luz, who mix elements of surf, girl group harmonies and doo-wop into a period approximation if not coherent style, these early records function as a sort of Rosetta Stone from which they source their contemporary language (see their requisite use of the “Be My Baby” drum intro on “True Love Knows”). A somewhat unlikely juxtaposition of styles that transcends straight garage rock pastiche, theirs is a slightly more compelling brand of revivalist indie rock that, were it not for a troubling melodic weakness, would easily find them at the head of the current crop of like-minded groups.
Enlisting the seemingly ubiquitous Ty Segall in the producer’s chair for their latest and second for Hardly Art, Weirdo Shrine, La Luz have found a kindred sonic spirit, one who knows a thing or two about transcending mere aesthetic to create a contemporary approximation of a bygone era. But where Segall tends to favor heavy fuzz and garage rock’s noisier tendencies, here he manages to temper much of that in favor of a warm, rick analog sound full of heavily reverbed guitars, resonant drums and sugary-sweet, if a bit detached, vocal harmonies.
At a tight eleven songs in just over 30 minutes, Weirdo Shrine makes quick work of its multi-genre exercises. While the predominant style is surf rock, replete with single-note unison guitar lines and tribal drumming, La Luz’s use of layered harmonies helps prevent much of the album from descending into mere pastiche. While certainly a stylistic touch point, it doesn’t come to dominate the whole of the album, leaving room for chronologically similar styles to make an appearance throughout.
The only trouble is, much of the material ends up sounding similar with no one track standing out from the pack. On “Hey Papi” they channel their inner Dick Dale via Ennio Morricone for a surf rock/spaghetti western instrumental hybrid that will no doubt find its way into a Quentin Tarantino film at some point. But aside from this, Weirdo Shrine is more a solid collection of songs with a similar stylistic through line that helps each feel very much of a whole but prevents distinct tracks from making themselves known.
Additionally, and as has become de rigueur with these types of groups, the women of La Luz employ a disaffected, detached approach to their vocals, lending their delivery an air of ennui and general disinterest. While clearly a conscious aesthetic choice, it can become a bit distracting and ultimately off-putting in its inherent lack of emotionality. This and their lack of immediate melodic hooks aside, the music itself is top-notch rock and roll of the vintage varietal, one which will no doubt appeal to those who tend to favor the simpler, more relatable eras of popular music.