The 2013 single Brainwash, a sublime little piece of surf and psych-influenced indie pop, was the last time I’d really heard any major buzz from La Luz. Since then, La Luz has had an undeniably strange past few years.

Lead singer Shana Cleveland took time off to release a solo record, original bassist Abby Blackwell left the group, and a devastating car crash destroyed the band’s gear, forcing La Luz to cancel their 2013 tour. So, in more ways than one, Weirdo Shrine feels like a fitting title for the group’s sophomore LP.

Heavily influenced by surf-rock legends such as Dick Dale and The Vultures, La Luz breezed through a set that placed emphasis on showcasing their (relatively) new material. Quite often, perhaps excessively, the band is compared to the core of 50s rock acts who helped establish the classic ‘surf sound.’ And while La Luz is undeniably indebted to this era of music, very little critical attention has been paid to other artists and styles that might serve as inspiration.

la luz montreal 2Take, for example, one of the first songs of the evening, Sleep Till They Die; a slow-burner that sounds a ton like Caribou by Pixies (it’s even in the same key). In fact, unexpected traces of Pixies, and especially Kim Deal, can be found all over La Luz’s music.

The set also brought into focus just how much the group has sharpened their signature ‘noir surf’ sound; that foreboding sense of doom lurking behind the lush melodies. The band lures us in with a disarmingly beautiful four-part harmony, before bringing down the hammer with one of Cleveland’s borderline face-melting riffs, or Alice Sandahl’s Ray Manzarek-inspired keyboard fills.

La Luz seems to constantly hint at some ambiguous sense of danger, without really articulating what that danger might be. There is a distinct sense of play in their live act that complements the laid-back surf aesthetic, elevating the show to a more special place.

At times, it’s as if the band is working through a series of inside jokes onstage; inexplicably, bassist Marian Li Pino played the opening riff to With Davey on at least three distinct occasions, before leading into a different song. And Cleveland’s wonderfully half-hearted attempt to have the crowd guess how many times we heard the Super Mario Bros Theme Song during the set was, well, kinda just weird. But definitely in a good way.

* Photos by Georgia Vatcher

Artsy Chicks

What is this and where is it going? You may ask yourself those very questions listening to local Montreal band The Artsy Chicks. The truth is you’ll never know and that’s just fantastic. For now, let’s describe their music as experimental, although that will change from one album to the next according to the band’s keyboardist Zach Scholes.

Scholes met fellow bandmates Dominic Caterina (guitar), Juan Cruz Fernandez (guitar/vocals), Mario Lombardi (bass, tenor saxophone) and Corey Tardiff (drums) while studying music at Vanier College and formed The Artsy Chicks exactly one year ago, in the spring of 2013. They had already released a full-length album, Kwoto Zeetrus, by November. The album is a rambling exploration of noise, post-rock, a good measure of jazz and a hint of surf rock. It showcases the band’s impeccable balance between chaos and structure. It’s some good noise, that’s for sure.

The band have another record coming out this summer and Scholes explained that this time, their sound will be much more surf rock oriented.

“One of the reasons we all got together is we wanted to be in a project that does whatever it wants to do. We just like to try and do different things and do our best. All of us really enjoy music, we all study different things and continue to study so we wanted an outlet for that,” he said. “We’re already working on the next two records and they’re going to be totally different. We’re all musicians and we’re all composers, we all do different things that stimulate us musically.”

Nowadays, it’s common to see so many different influences coming together in a band’s sound. The Artsy Chicks have a bit of a more novel approach in that they go through phases with their composition, much like many listeners, myself included, go through phases with music. You might be really into a certain genre for a little while and eventually you start feeling something else.

The one thing the band conscientiously strives for when it comes to their sound is honesty, not just with listeners but also among themselves.

“That’s the feeling that I like and that’s the feeling that we’re trying to go for. [Bands who try to sound a certain way], there’s nothing wrong with that. But it doesn’t work for us and the way we think about it,” Scholes said. “We worked really hard to get into a position where you can tell someone flat-out ‘this isn’t working’. That person can tell you to fuck off if they want to. There’s a nice dynamic there. I think it makes for better music.”

The band are taking full advantage of their current dynamic and steady surge of material and are trying to get it all out while it’s there. This explains how they’re managing to work on two albums simultaneously after having released one just six months ago. Not to mention all the shows they’ve been playing in Montreal and the Canadian tour they’ll embark on mid-June (they have an Indiegogo campaign on right now to help fund the tour).

They’ve played with plenty of prominent local bands including Atsuko Chiba, Archery Guild and Hellenica and participated in the fourth edition of monthly series The Secret Museum of Sound and Nature.

“There are so many great bands,” Scholes said. “We really like playing with Hellenica, it just seems to fit so well with what we’re doing now. It’s amazing to see him live cause he’s one guy with a guitar. It’s quite a mind-trip.”

He said The Artsy Chicks will be playing with Hellenica again for their album launch July 6 at La Vitrola (details to come).

Scholes also had nice things to say about another Montreal band, Feefawfum, who will be performing with them tonight.

“They’re amazing. It’s going to be really out there,” he said. “The guys in the band are phenomenal musicians and we’re really excited to be playing with them.”

The Artsy Chicks perform tonight, May 11 at Piccolo Rialto with Feefawfum and Palm Trees. Doors open at 8 p.m., $5.

Photo by Justine Israel courtesy of The Artsy Chicks.

*Correction: This post originally stated The Artsy Chicks’ sophomore album launch would take place June 6 instead of July 6. Apologies for the error.