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Pitchfork NOVEMBER 10, 2020 - by Allison Hussey
LOMA: DON'T SHY AWAY
The group's second album skates between rhythmic, mechanical churn and abstracted instrumental sweeps, seeking the boundaries between natural, artificial, and supernatural.
It can be hard to know when you're done with a creative pursuit. There are endless ways to fuss over the details of an audio mix, the timing of a film cut, the right choice of word; more broadly, it can be just as challenging to know when to call it quits on a project. A sense of unfinished business - and a particularly flattering compliment - drew Cross Record's Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski and Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg back together as Loma. On their 2018 self-titled debut, the band frayed the edges of indie-rock conventions, balancing stately electronic flourishes within familiar keys-and-guitars structures. The new Don't Shy Away expands on their capability for total absorption, reaching for a more varied palette of textures and plunging deeper into synthesizers and the human psyche.
Some of Loma's renewed momentum came from the unexpectedly enthusiastic endorsement of Brian Eno, who said in 2018 that he'd been playing Loma's serpentine Black Willow on repeat. At the band's request, Eno produced and developed synth programming on Don't Shy Away's final song, Homing, completing the track from stems sent via email. His appearance scans as a footnote, an unobtrusive assist that primarily plays to Loma's own biome-building strengths.
Don't Shy Away skates between rhythmic, mechanical churn and abstracted instrumental sweeps, framing the naturalistic imagery of the band's lyrics alongside ambient elements. Bird calls peek through the final minute of Blue Rainbow before synthetic buzzes edge them out; the short instrumental piece Jenny drifts a rippling guitar part over deep percussion and bonfire crackles before ceding to the slowly restless title track. The whole transmission feels less like a battle of human bravado against the wilderness than an attempt to suss out the boundaries between natural, artificial, and supernatural.
Much of the album is shadowed by ominous clouds, blares of horns and low peals of synths that seep across the record like ink into thick paper. Ocotillo lurches forward over a foghorn trombone as keys glimmer beneath squalls of brass. From a pulsating beat that presses forth with the insistence of a club track, Given A Sign concludes with a wall of synths that underscore its sense of urgency. Don't Shy Away quickly sounds darker and richer than Loma, and its instrumental obfuscations are as enchanting as they are challenging to unravel.
Below these surfaces, however, the band builds out dazzling instrumental environments like dense, dynamic undergrowth. Synths and guitars intertwine, coiling into a labyrinthine backdrop as their edges blur. Moments of lightness arrive in the jittery opening synth swipes of Elliptical Days, which transforms into a stately, swooping number that winks at some sort of futuristic forest cotillion. Breaking Waves Like A Stone flits with bright melodic dapples, while its bassline (supplied by Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner) provides a calming counterpoint. Cross' airy voice is the album's guiding light, slipping in and out of each song with the unassuming insistence of sunlight leaking through a canopy.
By capturing the space between the ache of yearning and the warm glow of memory, Homing exemplifies Loma's talent for bottling convoluted feelings. The intangible potency of Don't Shy Away comes from its latent sense of spirituality; in Homing, it's a reminder that geographical distance can't keep someone from being, in a sense, right here. Humane intimacy prevails within Loma's landscapes, magnified by Cross' spoken-word narration and bobbing background harmonies. Though it's phrased in the negative, Don't Shy Away is an invitation. It honors the sacred space of uncertainty, acknowledging lingering darkness while trusting in the possibility that brighter, more brilliant worlds lie within reach.