An integral part of La Luz’ sound for the past few years, guitarist Shana Cleveland proves her solo vision to be just as potent. Shirking off the shell of the “band,” Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles, that she’d used last time she struck out on her own, Night of the Worm Moon burrows far further into the darker recesses of pop’s hold on the mind. Elements of surf still infect her songwriting, as would befit any member of La Luz, but this seems to be a pale midnight ride into the waves. It’s one that ends with a dive below the surface. holding your breath until it hurts, then returning to the beach to watch the stars in hope that another is out there feeling just as adrift upon the pangs of loneliness. Themes of isolation, flying saucers, other worlds, solar eclipses, and inner monologues weave between the somnambulant plucks of Cleveland’s songs. The record revels in lulling the listener into a cocoon of calm, but winds up painting their dreams in strange iridescent shades that haunt heavily upon waking.
The fevered pastoral nature of the record places it outside many of her surf and garage contemporaries, finding a queasy balance of bleakness and hope like some of the best members of bygone label Language of Stone. Were it the peak of the psych-folk revival, Cleveland could easily find herself sharing a bill between Orion Rigel Dommisse, Festival, Josephine Foster, and White Magic. She ultimately tugs away from the noose of nostalgia, though, giving the album a thoroughly timeless feeling at its core. Night of the Worm Moon winds up that rare instance of a record that slows time around the listener, sealing the moments spent listening in a billow of haze that’s as narcotic as any substance you’re likely to encounter. Cleveland has long proven a nuanced force in pop, but this album seals her legacy as one of the new era’s most haunting folk voices.
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