After Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski of Cross Record opened for Shearwater on their 2016 tour, front man Jonathan Meiburg approached them with the idea of working together. Meiburg had spent the whole tour listening to Cross Record’s opening sets, which is something he hadn’t done with previous opening bands. Entranced by Cross and Duszynski’s songs, he knew they needed to work together.

“We just kind of fell in love with their music, and getting to see them every night was a real joy. I’ve very rarely ever enjoyed seeing an opening band night after night after night”, Meiburg says on a video on Shearwater’s website. “I just went up to them and said, ‘We need to make a record together of some kind. Or at least try.'” And thus Loma, which is Spanish for “hill”, was born.

Their self-titled debut is a moody, sky-scraping album that feels like a good sum of its parts. The vocal melodies often sound like they were taken right from Shearwater’s masterful LP, Jet Plane and Oxbow, and sudden scraps of sound are layered around the percussion parts and act as urgent propulsion for the songs. During the recording, the trio accidentally recorded Cross’s voice at the wrong sample rate (what that means), creating a strange, slowed-down sound that they chose to use on the whole album. The vocals on Cross Record’s albums are gossamer floating above roiling arrangements. On Loma, the gossamer thickens and darkens, coming out stronger and woodier while retaining the same whispering quality that is Emily Cross’s signature. On certain tunes, she channels Meiburg’s haunted baritone, and it feels as if the two of them are merged in songs like “Sundogs”, which could easily be an extra track from Shearwater’s Rooks.

The arrangements are far-reaching and varied, interspersing spacious moments of ambient noise and improvisation breaks with minor tonalities and modal shifts. “White Glass” is a night highway sweeping by. Strange shapes appear at the side of the road. Chord changes emerge against a repetitive piano like detour signs suddenly coming out of the darkness, only to drop us back onto the main road after a few moments.

The journey takes us through “Black Willow”, which is four minutes of lush, captivating tones that evoke imagery of fog-draped woods . A hushed reverie lingers throughout, enhanced by the vocal interplay of Meiburg and Cross. On the other side of the darkness is “Relay Runner”, which is liking emerging from a tunnel and into the light. Blissful and intoxicating, Cross’ soft yet immersive vocals hover above the trippy arrangements and hypnotic rhythms. The cinematic nature of these three orchestrations bring to mind certain sections of Jet Plane and Oxbow, which was “treated” like a movie score with extra flourishes after initial recording was finished.

I don’t know who wrote which specific lyrics, but I think I know a Meiburg lyric when I hear one. The lyrics are dense and erudite, like the best Shearwater writing. My favorite is from “Joy”. Right after a Cross clarinet solo comes to a fiery squeaking end, she sings:

“Let the fire run over the hill,
Susurrating and roaring,
And my heart breaks cover again
And I’m running in the open.”

Words like “sussurating” sound obscure but this one rolls off the tongue, perfectly in rhythm against cyclical, finger-picked guitar and thudding percussion, the creation of three very capable collaborators. Three gifted artists who not surprisingly have released a stunning piece of art.

Loma is out now on Sub Pop Records. Catch the band on their upcoming tour. Dates and information are available here.

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