Thursday, 30 July 2020

Loma – 'Ocotillo'

Back in early 2018, Loma put out their debut self-titled album on Sub Pop. I fawned over it upon its release, and the album's enduring beauty secured it top spot in my list of favourite albums of that year. In 2019, the band released the song 'Half Silences' – which has since disappeared from the internet, presumably as part of the roll-out for LP2 – and now we have the long-awaited announcement: Don't Shy Away, Loma's second record, will be released by Sub Pop on 23rd October.

Don't Shy Away album art by Lisa Cline

The brooding 'Black Willow', which caught the ear of none other than Brian Eno, was the first single off Loma. Don't Shy Away's first single proper, 'Ocotillo', initially feels like it's in a similar vein: the song opens at a restrained tempo, its simple swinging beat and loping bass creating a wide open space for the band to populate. While 'Black Willow' simmered with just-below-the-surface emotion throughout its runtime, 'Ocotillo' immediately feels more open-hearted. The bass pulse pauses to allow Jonathan Meiburg's Spirit of Eden-indebted electric guitar to periodically glimmer in the mix, and Emily Cross's voice is clear and pure. There's plenty of instrumental detail to catch the ear: congas add percussive interest to Dan Duszynski's lithe drums, while saxophone and clarinet swell and recede. Once Cross sings the words "wonderful disarray" towards the halfway point, all hell breaks loose. A squalling horn section overwhelms the mix as Cross's voice ascends into a scream that sounds more liberated than desperate, as if admitting her state of emotional chaos has allowed her to break free. The music certainly feels free, but it's not just a shortcut to a crescendo – the band ride out the stormy weather throughout the song's second half, never quite falling apart, yet transparently turbulent. It's as if 'Black Willow' and Radiohead's 'The National Anthem' had a love-child.

Loma band photo by Bryan C. Parker

During Loma's KEXP session in 2018, Meiburg likened Loma's creative process to collectively blowing a soap bubble that no one wanted to pop. That album's translucent beauty felt delicate and one-of-a-kind. 'Ocotillo', and 'Half Silences' before it, are early proof that Don't Shy Away is likely to be a bolder, more strident return, the band confident in their collective capacity to muster magic. 

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