In sound and narrative, indie supergroup Loma deliver an intelligent and emotive piece of post-modern cinema on their superb sophomore album, ‘Don’t Shy Away.’

In the second episode of the 1985 reboot of The Twilight Zone series, Bill Lowery’s world turns upside down. People around him use different words to describe things, such as referring to a dog as an “encyclopedia” and lunch as “dinosaur.” At first he thinks his co-workers and wife are playing a prank on him, though he comes to realize he is the one who is out of place and must re-learn the English language. The episode ends with the following query:

A question trembles in the silence: why did this remarkable thing happen to this perfectly ordinary man? It may not matter why the world shifted so drastically for him. Existence is slippery at the best of times. What does matter is that Bill Lowery isn’t ordinary. He’s one of us: a man determined to prevail in the world that was, and the world that is, or the world that will be, in the Twilight Zone.

Fiction is still reality 35 years later as people navigate through the clamoring white noise and falsehoods. What was once surreal has morphed into something frighteningly tangible. This is where Loma – comprised of Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski from Cross Record and Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater – find themselves on their superb sophomore album, Don’t Shy Away.

In sound and story the trio weave an intelligent and emotive piece of post-modern cinema. Like an Academy Award-winning film, the record enraptures and awes at its grandest moments then chills and provokes in its quieter times. The stark but beautiful melancholic “I Fix My Gaze” opens the LP.  Each note is subtly delivered with no single instrument lingering too long nor dominating. Cross’ whispery vocals are equally patient, reflecting her comatose state in this quickly decaying world. She says to herself:

“Stuck beneath the rock
I begin to see the beauty in it
I begin to see the hardness and the function of it
Its perfect texture
Smooth with age”

As her eyes adjust to her surroundings, her mind awakens on the blustery Ocotillo.” Hauntingly calm at first, the track erupts into a burst of cosmic euphoria as horns and Meiburg’s distorted guitar wail. The rhythms never lose their place, providing the singular landmark for Cross to find her bearings after she falls into a “wonderful disarray.” This sense of loss and lack of fulfillment is further accentuated on the album’s centerpiece, “Half Silences.” An urgency fills the air with Cross attempting to free herself from her tormentors, including herself:

“When I police myself
I never made contact
When you betray yourself
You’re only revealed
And when I see your face
I never see reason”

Just as escape may be in the cards, Loma descend back down the rabbit hole to unveil the kaleidoscopic “Elliptical Days.” Blending elements of Japanese and Native American folklore, Brian Eno-esque New Wave, subtle neo-psychedelic notes, and astute folktronica atmospherics, the song is an incomparable spiritual experience. Cross’ approach also changes as she shifts from protagonist to narrator, asking “Where do you go now” in this world with no finality? The hypnotic and exhilarating electronic-driven “Given a Sign” sees Cross find her feet, although she remains directionless at this point. Her repeated utterance of “I can’t wait” reveals her desperation.

The suspenseful “Thorn” echoes Radiohead’s dark enchantments, serving as a moment of deep reflection about what is happening in this world. Our heroine retraces her steps and finds motivation on the breathtaking, art-pop radiance of “Breaking Waves Likes a Stone.” Cross sings through the ambient soundscape:

“In the gloom of control
The resistance is heat
I can move like I did
Not a minute too late
You never will be simplified
Not for long”

Her journey through the despair and “down catacombs” continues on the throbbing “Blue Rainbowthat echoes PJ Harvey. A surprising calmness emerges in the short instrumental “Jenny” and continues through the transfixing “Don’t Shy Away.” The march suddenly stops, as she is confronted by a memory. As the song builds from its subdued, Shinto-inspired foundation to an immersive and nearly cosmic dark-folk experience, Cross asks a wandering soul to come back to her and become reborn. In this surreal world, is this person somewhere from her past or is it herself? With a brittle elegance, she calls out:

“Stop the car
Show me who’s driving
I know you don’t like
Missionary life
This is the light on my face
This is your only life
Look at me right now”

The expedition concludes with the spatial “Homing,” where Loma find their way home. This place, however, is lifeless. It is instead full of memory, with Cross recounting the “faces that come to life,” the “dog out in the sun,” and “a fire on the ridge, black cloud adorning.” She has come full circle, except this place is not what it was. Though this world is beyond comprehension, some beauty still remains. There is still also one soul who wishes to make sense of this surrealism.

Don’t Shy Away is out now on Sub Pop Records. Purchase or streaming links are available here and at Bandcamp.

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