Choice New Releases: Body Unltd, Tekla Waterfield, and La Luz

Record Review

Choice New Releases: Body Unltd, Tekla Waterfield, and La Luz

Forget about any flowery intros already. Attached please find a few new releases well worth your time.

Body Unltd, Genevieve: Body Unltd represents a two-person dream team of Northwest musical talent, comprised of Seattle-based singer/guitarist Irene Barber and electronica musician Vox Mod (a Seattle expat, newly transplanted to LA). Both of them have contributed to some of my favorite releases over the years (previously covered here and here, respectively). With that combination of elements, you’d expect something pretty special, and you’d be right.

The band’s debut EP, Genevieve, underlines its creators’ individual strengths as well as their collaborative synchronicity. Barber and Mod possess a knack for lending welcome doses of humanity to an electro-pop template: the latter’s background as a percussionist stays danceable without lapsing into sterility, and Barber’s gorgeous, clarion voice has imbued her myriad solo and collaborative projects over the years with rich organic beauty. 

In contrast to the more up-to-the-minute sonics that’ve characterized both artists’ individual electro-based works, Genevieve locks into a more direct, almost retro groove. “Coasts,” the EP’s opening cut, and the title track that follows sport driving locomotive percussion that evokes vintage New Order and Cabaret Voltaire. And the sleekly dark EP highlight “Where You Want to Go” plays like sexytime music for the vampires in The Hunger, with Barber’s singing suggesting Siouxsie Sioux at her most sensual. 

Consistently catchy melodies, and the emotions Barber and Mod wear on their sleeves, keep Body Unltd from sounding like a Reagan-era museum piece. No matter how ethereal Barber’s voice gets, the lyrics always betray welcome (and oft-enchanting) emotional and sexual heat. “Coasts” is, at its core, small talk thrumming with underlying romantic tension and imagery. And the haunting EP closer, “Arrival,” lays its emotional cards openly on the table, as Barber sings, “Am I losing you?” with a vulnerability and directness that contrasts the undeniable gorgeousness in her voice. 

No less a force than PNW super-producer Matt Bayles mans the mixing board, and his nimble work showcases a versatility that’s really blossomed over the last decade. He’s always excelled at giving heft and grandeur to guitar-based acts like Pearl Jam and Minus the Bear, but his deftness at the helm here adds evocative substance to the tracks without overwhelming them. Bayles’ acumen in the production chair—and Body Unltd’s surplus of hooks, heat, and atmosphere—make for an intoxicating combination. And yes, this six-song EP leaves you wanting more, in the best possible way. (Body Unltd celebrates the release of Genevieve with a live gig/release party at Barboza tonight.)

Tekla Waterfield, New Skies: Tekla Waterfield’s quietly confident wounded-angel voice can wring a torrent of emotion out of a song. She’s been deploying that singular instrument on her brand of roots-folk music for years, and the tracks that comprise about half of her stellar new long-player, New Skies, demonstrate that Waterfield can still craft a warmly affecting  Americana track with the best of them. 

Magical as tracks like “Can’t Move On” and the achingly lovely “Love Comes Along” are, though, the remainder of New Skies showcases the versatility and sharpness of Waterfield’s songwriting, to dazzling effect.  

The awesome “Yesterday Was A Bad Day” contrasts its sunny, shuffling pop hook with some drily humorous lyrics. Elsewhere, Waterfield throws on a paisley skirt and gogo boots for “Mr. Browntown,” a sixties-flavored jewel with some swinging organ and tastefully glammy fuzz guitar. And “Come On Jane” somehow holds together compulsively catchy ooh-oohs, a tinge of soul, beat-poet vocal rhythmics a la Lou Reed, and a synth flute that apparently wandered in from an ‘80s Stevie Wonder record. 

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Waterfield’s got producer (and husband) Jeff Fielder serving as a sublime foil/collaborator. He provides a warm, generous production for the record and remains one of this region’s low-key treasures on guitar, shifting from melancholy Duane Eddy twang to fluttering acoustic fragility to smoldering soulfulness on a proverbial dime. 

Between Fielder’s guitar and production work, the tighter-than-tight backing band, and the powerhouse backing vocalists goosing the Muscle Shoals swing of “Lie Lie Lie,” a galaxy of local talent lends a hand throughout the album. Happily and most importantly, it’s all in the service of the singer/songwriter at the center. New Skies could well be Tekla Waterfield’s best record yet—which speaks volumes about someone who’s already accrued one of the most consistently great catalogs in the Pacific Northwest’s Americana scene. 

La Luz, La Luz (Hardly Art): You could never really slap a pat label on the sounds made by Northern California-by-way-of-Seattle band La Luz. Shana Cleveland’s treble-seasoned guitars, Alice Sandahl’s keyboards, and the band’s knack for pillowy harmonies even when their songs kick up some major dust, have always superficially leaned retro. But they’ve bent those old-school elements to their own vision over the years, seasoning their output with a very of-the-moment sense of self. 

La Luz’s new self-titled full-length clocks in at a tight 37 minutes, but it finds the band taking a long, sweet (Metaphoric? Literal? Both?) drag from the psych-pop hookah pipe. Even the rockers on La Luz—the thoroughly groovy “Metal Man” and the rolling wipeout that is “Goodbye Ghost”—are informed by kaleidoscopic flourishes, with most of the record exhibiting a cosmic, trippy flow. The jumping-off points here lean less into the Ventures, and more into acts like The Beatles (“Lazy Eyes and Dune”), The Zombies (“I Won’t Hesitate”), and Love (“Watching Cartoons”). Big-gun producer Adrian Younge, normally a hip-hop specialist, puts a George Martin/Lee Hazlewood spin on the songs and those can’t-miss La Luz harmonies—you can practically bask in the sonic glow on this record.

Cleveland, Sandahl, and bassist Lena Simon swing 12-for-12 on La Luz‘s track list, but the shiniest jewel in this chest has to be “Down the Street,” a sparkling, irresistible pop song that sounds like Hope Sandoval on happy pills, skipping through Piccadilly Square. Like the rest of La Luz, it’s bound to play magnificently in the summer—when even the shadow of uncertain times melts for a few precious moments ‘neath the glittering sunshine. (La Luz play Seattle’s Neptune Theatre tomorrow night, November 19.)

Tony Kay

Tony Kay