Allah-Las :: Zuma 85

You can glimpse a stunning sunset through a ruined window on the cover of the Allah-Las’ fifth full-length, Zuma 85, a fitting metaphor for the music’s cracked pastoral beauty, which imbues 1970s psychedelia with sunny So-Cal breeziness.

Like a lot of bands, Allah-Las hit a roadblock in the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, which killed not only touring but the simple, collaborative process of gathering to make music. For this “return to normal album,” band members brought riffs and rough sketches to the studio, working on them together to finish them. As a result, the songs have a loose, improvisational quality; they jumpstart from different points of origin, but the band’s dreaming, drifting, laid-back pop aura aligns them into a cohesive listening experience.

Thus, “The Stuff” is quintessential jangle pop, powered by a scrabbling riff but smoothed over by soft melodic singing. The song concerns the commodification of music, where algorithm choose what gets played on the radio and everything sounds lukewarm. But even as they fight the machine, the Allah-Las are not above an audio joke. When they taunt bar bands for their blues-guitar soloing, someone slips in a smoldering dad-rock lick.

“The Stuff” sounds more or less like you expect the Allah-Las to sound, but other cuts range further from home base. “Right on Time” hazy a euphoric lo-fi shimmer, like a lost Magnetic Fields track blissed on E. “Hadal,” an instrumental cut, rides a minimalist guitar lick through woozy clouds of synthesizer. Like the kraut grooves it references, the track is both sharp and hazy, driving and open-ended. The title cut splices tranquil field recordings with a pulse of bass and drums letting lucid runs of electric guitar dissolve in the air. Like that view from the window, it is exceptionally beautiful but a little wrecked, no California dreaming here.

Zuma 85 gets at a very consistent vibe from divergent directions, trying out all sorts of ideas but fitting them into a single, album-spanning narrative. It’s a nice view, but more than that, a reminder of how art can spring from difficulty and transcend it. | j kelly

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