La Luz, “Strange World” (Sub Pop) 

I respected the dreamy surf rock that La Luz created in their early years, but was among the minority of listeners who were never really wowed by it. Consequently, I drifted away from keeping close tabs on their career.

But somewhere along the way, the LA-via-Seattle group led by guitarist/singer/lyricist Shana Cleveland diversified their sound, showed flashes of elegant aggression, and toughened up their rhythm section. Releases such as 2021's self-titled album and 2018's Floating Features revealed a broader sonic palette (funky beats and sitar on the former's "Watching Cartoons," recorded with Adrian Younge, really stood out, as did the motorik rhythm of "California Finally" on the latter). Now, La Luz's songs more often grip you, whereas before they wafted around you—albeit pleasantly.

Newly promoted from Hardly Art to Sub Pop for their new full-length, News of the Universe (out May 24), La Luz have attained a peak—a rare turn of events for a rock group a dozen years into their existence. Inspired and consoled by Octavia E. Butler's metaphysical poetry collection of the same title, Cleveland wrote these songs in the fraught aftermath of a breast cancer diagnosis, which occurred two years after the birth of her son.

On top of these turbulent life events, La Luz lost veteran bassist Lena Simon and keyboardist Alice Sandahl (although both played on Universe), and had to adapt to new drummer Audrey Johnson. Life dealt Cleveland lemons, and she squeezed them into the delicious lemonade of Universe. 

On "Dandelions," Johnson proves herself to be a true badass on the drums. Her rapid paradiddles propel the song into rich and strange territory, resulting in avant-rock that's at once edgy and spacey. "Close Your Eyes" opens with a funky breakbeat and cruises into airy psychedelia with luscious "la la la"s and handclaps augmenting Cleveland's silvery, liquid guitar leads and Simon's suspenseful bass line. "Poppies" offers high-caliber, arty pop that makes you feel as if you're wobbly-legged on a carousel; who doesn't love that?

"Always in Love" carries a Cate Le Bon-esque prog-pop complexity and stateliness—evidence that "maturity" isn't a dirty word. "Blue Moth Cloud Shadow" comes across like a rock-oriented Julia Holter song—melodically sophisticated, with an intricately spellbinding vocal arrangement. "Good Luck With Your Secret" transports girl-group pop to outer space via a warped and serpentine keyboard solo. The vocal harmonies are as honeyed as ever, and layered to swoon-worthy dimensions.

On "News of the Universe," Cleveland lays out two mantras by which to live—"change is the only law" and "I must keep my heart open"—as the song shockingly bursts into life like a '70s prog opus, before downshifting into an oneiric reverie.  

The new single, "Strange World," is powered by perhaps the most rugged beats in La Luz's catalog. The song exerts a magnetic force, a cosmic throb, urged along by Stereolab-esque "ba ba ba"s and metronomic/Teutonic drums. It's a transcendent shoegaze song reminiscent of prime-era Lush—which is a somewhat scarce commodity nowadays. La Luz keep improving, against the odds. 

La Luz perform on May 30 at Crocodile.

(blouseusa), "Larping Superiority" (Lithic Records)

Seattle-based experimental label Lithic is in the business of excavating the Pacific Northwest's subterranean sonic strata for adventurous specimens. Its newest discoveries appear on the expansive nine-track compilation Realms and Ruins Volume I. 

Lithic boss Brent Carpenter has gathered a solid range of sounds here. Undular Bore's subliminal aural catastrophes abut Hidden Gateways' Manuel Göttsching-like kosmische guitar sighs. Noisepoetnobody's "Anxiety Dreams" is a serious nerve-scraper that manifests the title, as well as a nightmare triggered by a miasma of whirring machinery and distorted big-cat snarls. Former Master Musicians of Bukkake guitarist Jim Davis generates a wonderfully eerie drone derived from what sounds like a violin fed through a bandsaw and a Theremin being played by a ghost with delirium tremens. It's a hell of an illusion.

The double LP's longest piece comes from the illustrious Thomas Andrew Doyle. At 12:40, it's a genuinely traumatic rumble of vast cinematic scope—light years beyond most noise artists' efforts with regard to dynamics and timbre. Said it before, will say it again: TAD should be scoring big-budget films that put the fear of [insert your deity of choice here] in you. 

(blouseusa) is somesurprises drummer/guitarist Benjamin Thomas-Kennedy's most interesting solo project. Here he combines powerful, oddly metered drumming with a bizarre melody sculpted from what seems like a synthesizer whose circuits have been dowsed in magic-mushroom tea. The doubled-up vocalizing between BTK and an unknown individual adds to the disturbing aural drama galavanting through the stereo field. A stunning stumper of a track that'll have you glancing over your shoulder in paranoia. 

The Realms and Ruins Volume I release party featuring TEST FRENZY, (blouseusa), and noisepoetnobody happens May 3 at Southgate Roller Rink, 9 pm, 21+, $18 cover/$5 skate.