Like a curtain of ice swept from a forest cabin window, the debut album from Loma forms a beautifully glacial world full of songs and sounds in which to immerse yourself. The trio of Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater), Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski (both from Cross Record) bonded over time spent crammed in the back of a van while Meiburg’s band toured the US in 2016. What they have created together is spellbinding, one of the most interesting and bewitching albums of recent years. Loma describe their sound as, “Uneasy listening”, an apt description for what transpires here as it wraps the listener in its cold grip and refuses to let go from the first note to the last.
The ending of Cross and Duszynski’s marriage during the recording sessions automatically lend an urgent air to much of the material here, but the biggest influence is not an emotional location, but rather a physical one. Recorded in a house just outside of Austin, sounds from the external world intrude and interject at regular points during the album, and give the whole listening experience a heightened sense of space and distance – this is an album to listen to with the aid of the best set of headphones or speakers possible. The natural soundscape seems to extend for miles into the distance, unlimited in its ambition or scale. Dogs snarl, insects chirrup, rain falls, with the songs simply wrapping themselves around and living inside each moment. Speaking afterwards, the band described the house as, “Like a world of its own – full of joy, fear and heartbreak.” It shows with every single second. In some ways, Loma is like a supernatural horror movie in the manner that it unfolds and builds with a slow-burning intensity – the tone and atmosphere of Robert Eggers’ The Witch repeatedly comes to mind as an example of the mood created here.
The relatively simple opener ‘Who Is Speaking?’ acts as a palate cleanser for what is to come. Cross’ vocals glide across the air with a ghostly quality, before the icy fog of ‘Dark Oscillations’ sweeps in – a twitchy electronic beat giving it an unsettling atmosphere. ‘I Don’t Want Children’ stops you in your tracks, the stark simplicity of the harp interlaced with the boldness of Cross singing: “I don’t want children/even though if I did, I would want them from you”. Clever production (utilised after a happy recording accident) of her vocals make her sentences spin out into the ether, its slow pace making it an extremely powerful yet calming song. It is simply stunning, demanding and deserving nothing less than full attention and immersion. What makes it an even more impressive piece of music is that the lyrics were in fact written by Meiburg (as was the whole album) rather than Cross. She owns and inhabits the words so comfortably and naturally that it is hard to believe that they are not hers to begin with.
Despite the background of the events during recording, Loma is far from a relentlessly downbeat album. ‘Joy’ and ‘Relay Runner’ have a pace driving them on, and the record injects changes of pace and tone at regular points. The instrumental ‘Jornada’ bounces along on a hypnotic groove, testament to Duszynski’s masterful engineering and sonic control. The trio have found something wonderful within themselves, and it is clear that they bring the very best out in each other musically. As the album closes on ‘Black Willow’, a choir sings its oblique lyrics (“My tongue is itching with the sound you’re always singing in my head”) before all fades into silence. And with that, the curtain seems to close over the world of Loma once more. They have built a strange world here that you will want to visit and bathe in repeatedly, one that reveals a little more of itself every time. Spell-binding stuff.