Luna Moth is no stranger to experimentation. Joey Paz’s Norman-based project began in 2010 with Shamanic Youth, a 10-track exploration of layered guitar and pop deconstruction, but has since evolved into a fleshed-out four-piece.
And while the ideas implemented have traversed a diverse range of genres, its conceptual foundation largely remains unchanged.
Celestial Shades, self-released through Bandcamp in March, is a continuation of Paz’s scattershot brand of sensual psychedelia. Its influences are plucked from all ends of the musical spectrum — post- punk, ambient, R&B — and it often does so abruptly and without warning. The only difference? Paz’s songwriting is more focused and refined while the album’s mood remains consistent despite every opportunity to jolt and jostle the listener through each corner of hell and back.
This much is evident from the get-go. Opener “Apotheosis” is four minutes of densely layered drone, screeching guitar swells and gauzy ambiance. As the layers build, so too does the intensity, culminating in an impossibly beautiful explosion of color in sound. More importantly, the song is an intrepidly forceful introduction, as if to somehow signify an album of blunt inaccessibility.
But an abrupt end to the track acquiesces to the warm, welcoming soul of single “I Don’t Mind” with its pattering percussion and a delicate melodiousness serving in stark contrast to the song’s predecessor. Paz’s impassioned croon assumes the forefront, harmonious “oohs” provide a subtle flourish of saccharin and the listener is washed clean of the previously foreshadowed doom.
Despite this contrast, the songs do embody the same moody disposition. While Paz’s previous releases gathered a variety of sounds without a consistent identity, Celestial Shades harnesses his ideas from song to song with a single traversable bridge.
Much of the album’s lyrics, however, are even more dense than its instrumentation — not an easy feat. Most will need a pocket dictionary to decipher a good chunk of Paz’s lines, which at times favor cuteness over practicality. On “I Don’t Mind,” he sings, “An unequivocal eclipse of eloquence entrenched in vivid bliss,” which just screams, “Look at me,” thus hindering the potency of an otherwise-beautiful work. The songs that provide the most mystique — like “67 Moons” (“Jupiter’s got 67 moons/ But I got you”) — do so genuinely, effortlessly and never force the issue with pretension.
Though the band has taken a pivotal step forward with Celestial Shades, it still seems on the cusp of its best material. What’s attainable now is clear, however, and its amalgam of sounds points toward something uniquely enveloping. With further tweaking and consolidation, hearing Luna Moth’s name alongside other modern psych-pop luminaries at the very least seems fathomable.