Music

Luna: Romantica

Jason Damas

Luna

Romantica

Label: Jetset
US Release Date: 2002-04-23
UK Release Date: 2002-04-22
Amazon
iTunes

Despite that I'm a great admirer of guitar-based pop music, I've always found dream-pop and shoegazing and the like to be a bit, how shall I say it . . . dull. While I loved latter-period albums from the Boo Radleys and Lush, I never could get into their dreamier, more abstract earlier works (in the case of the Boos, I even had trouble grasping a good deal of their Giant Steps, an album considered brilliant by many). So I approached the new Luna release, Romantica, with trepidation: would this be a collection of laid-back, dreamy pop, or a collection of complacent, droning non-songs?

Very thankfully it's the former. This is dream-pop that almost anyone could easily enjoy, with hooks, melodies, and instrumentation that is clean and punchy enough to stand out, but still maintains the laid-back atmosphere that makes this type of guitar-pop what it is. A kind of hazy satisfaction is settled over each of the disc's 12 tracks, making each number -- from the more direct, radio-ready tracks to the spacier, more experimental tunes -- gel into an excellent cohesive whole.

It's obvious that Luna's many lineup changes and record label shifts haven't hurt them much. But in reality, it's kind of amazing that they've survived as long as they have: since springing from the ashes of Galaxie 500 in the early 1990s, they've pumped out five studio albums and become critical darlings on the college rock circuit. But unlike bands of similar stature (Pavement springs to mind), they never crossed over to any larger audience. Luna have always been also-rans of the CMJ crowd. They were always the bridesmaids, never the brides.

And sadly, it's unlikely that Romantica is going to change that. Coming several years after being unceremoniously dropped by Elektra and a solid decade after their debut, Luna may be too far along in their career to suddenly become the toast of the independent rock world. But that doesn't mean that they can't put out a solid, thoroughly pleasing and engaging record that is certain to delight the fans who continue to pay attention.

The album's brightest moment comes in the opening track, the amazingly happy "Lovedust". It's the kind of song that would fit right in as the optimistic touch to a movie soundtrack, the perfect slice of guitar-pop that is appealing to just about every twenty-something in the world. And all of this is formed on a fairly simple lyrical and musical hook (the chorus chirps "What did I see / A million / A billion / A trillion stars"). And that simplicity is part of what makes it such a pleasant piece of dreamy guitar pop.

And while it is true that the rest of the album lacks of the focus of "Lovedust", there are plenty more wonderful moments. "Black Postcards" employs a hefty string section, "Swedish Fish" (It's hard not to love that title) and "Dizzy" are fairly straight-forward folk-pop, and the band also throws in a fairly pointed rocker in the form of "1995". Complete with more forceful, hard-hitting guitar riffs, the song is the most up-tempo moment on the album, but that's only one of the reasons it stands out. Like all the best moments on the album, it's driven by a catchy chorus and Dean Wareham's vaguely Lou Reed-esque lead vocals. But any trace of an edge on Wareham's lazy drawl is tempered by the more ethereal female background vocals. Wareham, along with second guitarist Sean Eden, also contribute tight, dreamy rhythm guitar riffs on nearly every song, while the lead guitar occasionally occupies the darker sonic spaces in each song. It's the subtle sonic contrast that makes these moments so engaging: the differences between the sweet and sour moments in the vocals and guitar licks give each of these songs a foundation. The end result is a tasty confection for the ears.

And that shouldn't come as a major surprise, since Gene Holder (of dB's fame, though he's produced for Cowboy Mouth, Pylon, Yo La Tengo and others) is twisting the knobs here. His production is clean but not shiny. Much like his old band, the record retains a tidy sound without sounding too calculated. He doesn't sand the edges off the corners of the guitars or vocals, even if he does reel in the performances enough to be succinct and engaging.

So even if Romantica turns out to be no more than another entry into the crowded oeuvre of an indie pop band, it's at least a very worthwhile entry. The disc's cover art-a cigarette lighter with a hazy tropical beach scene airbrushed on the side-says it best: Romantica is hazy fun with a slightly collegiate, slightly gritty side. And the grit is just enough to be interesting, but not enough to obscure its own virtues.

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image