Loma: Has the sonic successor to Cortez the Killer you’ve been waiting for

I don’t like Neil Young.

Oh, I don’t hate him, no, no, no. Not at all, and even if I did, would I deny Neil Young his talents, his ability to dissect and cut up grey beachday musings or one-room depressions? His voice meanders gently, probably because he knows (or remembers once) a broken bottle lurks along the floor, stalking underneath a misplaced pair of pants or a half-read digest. As for his guitar: how many times has Mr. Young woken up with a warm wood spine fallen across him or an hourglass shape sitting patiently, awkwardly even, upon his lap?

But I don’t like like him. Like any god-among-man, I respect his powers, but I won’t die at his altar—it’s too late for that, I’ve already prayed as child to the others: the Norse raiders, the riders of the apocalypse, the breakdown artists who blare from helicopter sound systems and signal the end, dropping aces like leaflets: “Repent! Convert! Save!” and whipping hot-iron along the wind with a cold grip.

All of that? L’enfer: a hell old man Young would never want to deal with—not even once. And I respect that, and I must admit: where I never loved fully the riffwork on Buffalo Springfield or the hum-and-drum musicality of his 70’s career, looking out the glass bottoms and softly strumming his guitar, I do love the music that reminds me of him. How artists have taken the soft-spoken, totally out-of-tune vocals and refined them along with percussive melodies, finger-picked guitars and humming drones that metamorphizes folk into electronic, melds shoegazer with bluegrass (bluegazer) and dark ambient with art-rock (dark-rock). Does this sound like no one?

Then that’s where Loma will start: no one, nothing. Hardly enough to move a needle. Good. All the good ones start like that. There’s no hype to the art, there’s no need to balance seismographic readings with actual melodic competence. Only the facts matter, and the fact is: Loma starts by reminding you of something you can’t quite remember. It took a spin just to put memory back in cycle. Then the comparisons, contemporary and somewhat classic just launch from tongue, out with it: “London Grammar!, “Laura Marling!”, “Bad Seeds!” and “Slowdive!”, hell, “a softer Florence + a muted Machine” or even “a Blonde Redhead with dark makeup!” would suffice.

And true, true, along the debut, these references lay down with the rocks, gazing up at Emily Cross’ equally starry yet banshee vocals, crossing Goswellian breaths with Marling-esque phrasing and Reid-ish luster. They slip away as the mbiras and marimbas work in tandem, sparkle eyes away from Dan Duszynski’s Ellis-like machine loops and percussive pacing. Johnathan Meiburg’s guitar then cuts back the way it came to drone as red rust brings wheels to heel.

The album rhymes like found poetry, rarely if not at all, and it doesn’t need to Cross hides a matchbox kiss in each vocal cord. She can twirl them, nonchalantly but seriously still enough, or she can light a choir with them. “Dark Oscillations,” “White Glass, “Black Willow,” these are the midnight hymnals, the charcoal-fire choirs. Burning along synth-line fuses or picking minor-key matches. The tire-smoke of drones burns just as well as the white-gas melodies. But its that inner fire of Cross that binds the album together like saltwater wood ready to smolder.

This mutual bondage allows for the album to synthesize wholes yet showcase parts. Engulfing it all, then dying down to burn a little here before burning a little there. Because Side A works hard to prove the theorem that x+y never equals absolute zero, there’s an absurd aesthetic to the music that means the cuts are never formless or unreal—just decimals of desolation with a single tree and lost men-on-ropes. The nature of this record earworms in its entirety, drum machines chew along cortexes “Dark Oscillations,” wedding the oscillating synthesizers with the vacillating Cross. Loma starts off putting the art in art-rock before smacking the listener with the rock on “Joy.” Drones and synths trade spaces, the former works with a plodding step, the latter works with shimmering mbiras, whose sonic waves even capsize the guitar in the middle of the mix, roped like a fisherman’s boat—on the fingers of a squall, their sails play in e-minor.

But even thunder-threatening dragon-clouds can slow down, odyssey-stoppers standing still for the orchard interlude of “I Don’t Want Children,” mbiras twinkling like harps in the olive garden while marimbas cascade and conjure, even when the music seems formless, the art is a sonic acrylic cup. Watching the paint slide across the canvas, marbling like a tile, is simply bewitching and it’s necessary for a contrast: to cap off Side A, Duszynski picks up pace, finds gusts and places them at the feet. Pitter-patter drum machines turn this runner’s high into a heart beating psychosis. The metamorphosis of bluegazing dark-rock is complete.

For Side B, however, the band decides to pull the threads apart and follow them one-by-one. This one is for Meiburg’s fingerpicking talents, this one is for Duszynski’s hum-and-drum obsessions, this one is for the sudden dirge of Cross’ ethereal shrieks, this one is for the soft-rustle of her grass-tongue whispers, this one is for the sessions artist, Matt Schuessler’s bass, to cut like glass. But not even “Shadow Relief,” with its mid-70’s Dylan demeanor of black-and-grey calcium acrylics decrying darkness coming over the valley, really matches up to the heavy capstone of “Black Willow” which punches plains-view horizons with baseball hail and cuts through the wire fences with a rime-covered dagger:

“And I’m living on
I carry a diamond blade
I’m living on
To pull the fences down
And when I walk
I carry a diamond blade
I will not serve you”

Josh Halpern’s drums on “Black Willow” take the plod of “Joy” and strings it out to a death march. Duszynski’s mbiras rain over a now withered garden. Meiburg’s hands slink across the fretboard, careless brushing the strings aside like a spectre. Loma plays on this fragility of life like stone-age pastels on a Gallic cave. The music howls like a coyote pack along Apache wind and the choir mourns the passing of a plains brave. This is a dark Americana. This is a headstone weathered to a cairn. This is “O Fortuna” playing over “Cortez the Killer.” This, listen after listen, is when I recalled again the smoke-water of Lake Texcoco filling between my toes, little lagoons warm and colored with the same blood slicking Cortez’s diamond blade scarlet, drip-dropping down the arm and bread-crumbing the grass line. The age is no longer Young, and the massacre is centuries over. What rises now is Loma, carrying that crystal sword, flaked dry, moaning exquisite dirges and pouring portraits of melding genres and forms well-worth losing oneself inside of.

If Zuma was the Spanish onslaught, then Loma is the gore-caked aftermath yearning to be heard.

Label: Subpop

Genre: Shoegazer, art-rock, electrofolk

Year: 2018

Tracklist:

  1. “Who is Speaking?”
  2. “Dark Oscillations”
  3. “Joy”
  4. “I Don’t Want Children”
  5. “Relay Runner”
  6. “White Glass”
  7. “Sundogs”
  8. “Jornada”
  9. “Shadow Relief”
  10. “Black Willow”