Los Angeles has often been described as a “dream factory”–both a mecca where dreamers converge to pursue long-held aspirations, and a topography of hallucinogenic contradictions: enchanting tangerine sunsets diffused by smog, crystal-clutching spiritualists mingling with deep-pocketed narcissists, rows of scenic palms competing with garish billboards for commuters’ attention.
It was against this backdrop that the four members of La Luz–singer/guitarist Shana Cleveland, drummer Marian Li Pino, keyboardist Alice Sandahl, and bassist Lena Simon–conceived of Floating Features, the band’s third studio album. For this, their most ambitious release yet, La Luz consulted landscapes both physical and psychological.
References to dreams abound on Floating Features. “Loose Teeth” catalyzes nightmare fuel into a propulsive, intentionally-disorienting collision of honeyed harmonies and Takeshi Terauchi-esque jetstreams of distorted surf guitar. “Mean Dream” unsurprisingly mines dreamstate imagery, and the lyrics and melody for “Walking Into the Sun” actually came to Cleveland during a particularly-vivid night of deep sleep. Looming over the album’s coterie of surreal figures (gargantuan cicadas, a monstrous “Creature,” The Sun King, aliens, the titular “Lonely Dozer”) is the magnificent “Greed Machine,” a skulking, insatiable engine of consumption–Nathanael West’s “business of dreams” fearsomely manifested.
To bring these visions to stereophonic life, La Luz pivoted from the DIY trailer-park brio of It’s Alive and the gritted-up urgency of Weirdo Shrine toward lush, hi-fidelity production value. Li Pino’s drums have never sounded more thunderously muscular, Simon’s basslines more robust-yet-agile, Sandahl’s organ melodies more complementary, Cleveland’s layers of guitar more versatile, or the group’s trademark harmonies more bewitching and rapturous. For every one of Floating Features’ seismic crescendos, there are just as many small, evocative details coloring its somnambulist soundscape.
Only La Luz could conjure up Floating Features’ Leone-on-LSD vibes, and the album finds the L.A. band at the height of their powers–golden rebels in a golden dream.
Being in a band is a sacred thing.
Being in a band in 2018 is a sacred thing.
Being from the Midwest is a sacred thing.
Being in a band that is from the Midwest in 2018…
Consider Shy Boys - DIY local champions of Kansas City, MO, who if you add it all up, are something sacred. Comprised of brothers Collin and Kyle Rausch and best friends Konnor Ervin, Kyle Little and Ross Brown, Shy Boys are the heartland’s answer to The Beach Boys had Alex Chilton been on guitar.
But if a harmony falls into a microphone in the middle of America does anyone really hear it? Some do. Take for instance Shy Boys’ 2014 self-titled debut on local Kansas City label, High Dive Records - I first came across this album while living in Los Angeles and catching wind of a band from my home town that I was told could “actually sing,” and after the first spin, through the muddy fidelity, man, could they actually sing.
Shy Boys’ history isn’t too dissimilar from any other Midwestern band. Like the many Replacements or Husker Düs before them - they exist neither here nor there, but instead, somewhere anonymously in the middle. And though you may not find the same opportunity floating in the middle as one would Here or There, you are allotted a certain amount of time and space to grow both yourself and your craft into what you want it to be. Over the past four years, that is exactly what Shy Boys have done and that is what brings us here today.
On August 3, 2018, the world will see the release of their second record, Bell House, out on legendary and globally cherished record label Polyvinyl, bringing both their profile and music to the surface for the first time.
The album’s title is taken from the band’s beloved headquarters - the old house on Bell Street in Kansas City where they lived together for the better part of 5 years.
“‘Lived’ is a loose term,” says lead songwriter Collin. “It was more like a bum den than anything else. There was a giant hole in the floor of the kitchen that had a piece of plywood over it. In the backyard, weeds got like 6 feet high in the summer. It was its own thriving biome. We lived in trash.”
Musically, Collin describes the songs on Bell House taking shape through “a group of guys trying to get through some sort of mutual identity crisis. The lifestyle became overwhelming and really seeped into the music.”
In the time since the release of ST, Collin saw himself falling in love and getting married, leaving the old house on Bell Street, and moving back into his mom’s house with his wife in a suburb of the city. It’s here where the songs of Bell Housewere born. Being back under the same roof he had grown up in where there was “still writing on the walls from childhood,” Rausch found himself reflective and looking out at his life as a whole.
Take closing track “Champion” for instance, a song Collin says is dedicated to his and Kyle’s mother. “It’s just a note saying that she took care of us when we were young, and now it’s time for us to be there and take care of her.”
The reflective spirit sprinkled throughout the album is also evident on lead single, “Take The Doggie,” a bouncy, guitar driven track centered around wanting to secretly rescue their neighbor’s dog from an abusive owner, or on album highlight “Evil Sin,” which tackles the memory of drummer/bassist Konnor Ervin getting robbed.
But through all of this, Rausch kept his passion in his band, if even for nothing more than to - in his own words - have an excuse to keep hanging out with his brother and best friends.
“I have to keep Shy Boys alive to have a regular excuse to hang out with them,” says Collin. “To keep the band alive, I have to write songs. To be able to travel with my buddies, there has to be a new record.”
There is an old term that’s kicked around in country music called a “blood harmony” - in which two people in the same blood line, usually siblings, harmonize with one another in real time. Perhaps that is Shy Boys’ magic touch, putting them just a notch above all the other angels out there in the indie rock choir, and it makes sense, though no longer practicing evangelicals, Collin and Kyle grew up singing besides their parents in their church choir, so their keen sense of harmony is nothing new to them, but instead a life practice devoted to the voice as an instrument.
The result is Bell House, and the result is beautiful. There is something sensitive to the touch about this album, which is perhaps another way of saying that, well - Shy Boys are indeed Shy Boys. I envision the band as a solid unit, with each moving part as an equal. There is a heavy sense of family in everything they do both, literally and figuratively. Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 song “Highway Patrolman” always seems to come to mind;
“Yeah me and Franky out laughing and drinking,
Nothing feels better than blood on blood.”