Luna has pretty much come to be the definition of dream-pop. The band creates a frequently gentle sound based on steady strums and light tones. With the side-project release of L’Aventura by Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips, the band members reached a new height of calming, occasionally soporific pop.
On Rendezvous Luna plays with a heavier sound (relatively speaking), including more exciting drums. The disc opens with a stunner, “Malibu Love Nest”, which keeps a musical tension throughout. The group uses the aesthetic it’s developed over its previous six studio albums — a droning feel with a simple melody line. Singer Dean Wareham’s voice sounds good on this piece; throughout the album (and his career), his singing has been uneven, largely due to the natural timbre of his voice. His vocals are a big part of Luna’s charm and when he’s on — as on “Malibu Love Nest” — the band can sound great.
As good as that track is, it isn’t the album’s best. “Astronaut”, which was on the Close Cover Before Striking EP and is remixed here, shows why critics have so often use the phrase “shimmering” to describe Luna’s sound. Bassist Britta Phillips, who joined the group in 2000, adds some soft back-up vocals and a fun bass part.
Continuing the trend away from sleepy-time music, Luna keeps the tempo up, ironically, with “Speedbumps”. The guitar strums are quick and steady, but there’s also a syncopated six-string part that keeps the groove on even as the other instruments come in and out. Phillips’s bass line at times sounds closer to a countermelody than a rhythm instrument, and it adds a nice layer to the song. The guitar solo stands out on this album. It’s basic, but melodic and driving.
Despite all the rock on Rendezvous, it just wouldn’t be a Luna album without some slowed down tunes to chill to. The first of these numbers is “Cindy Tastes of Barbecue”, a song more accessible than its odd title might suggest. Wareham’s vocals are a little lower in the mix on this track than on the others, which is fine, considering that the lyrics have less to offer here than the guitar tones and the mood. Luna also adds some electronic atmospherics in the second half of the song. Rather than building to these effects, though, the band uses the swirling sounds to develop the guitar’s statement, filling out a natural crescendo. It’s a small touch, but it’s the time of thing that makes an album more memorable than it otherwise would be.
Those types of effects — which occur on occasion throughout Rendezvous — can be enhanced through good production. For this album, Luna’s turned to Bryce Goggin (Phish, Pavement), and the results have paid off. The album sounds crisp and each instrumental and vocal track has been separated, filling up the disc’s aural space. The beauty of this production lies not with its cleanness, but with the way it matches Luna’s music so perfectly.
The group also matches its music with lyrics from at least one unlikely, but complementary place: Edward Lear’s poem “The Owl and the Pussycat”. It’s a children’s poem that’s as dreamy as Luna’s similarly-titled song. Just as you start to feel the lullaby, “Astronaut” starts up, shifting mood and re-focusing your attention. Afterward we get the mid-tempo “Broken Chair”, smoothing things out even while Wareham tests his falsetto. This type of intelligent song placement stretches across Rendezvous, serving as one more example of the care and precision that’s been involved in making this record.
In some ways, Luna doesn’t radically change its sound for this album, but it does expand its palette a little and demonstrate some extra energy in the studio. While Rendezvous won’t surprise listeners familiar with the group, it will probably please those already enamored of Luna’s sound. The album’s also varied and interesting enough to win over some new fans. Smooth, melodic, and well-executed, Rendezvous reminds us that the term “dream-pop” is a misnomer, because the music should really keep its audience awake.