Published Oct 19, 2020Loma never seemed long for this world. Originally a side project for Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg and Cross Record's Emily Cross and Dan Duszynski, the group were already in jeopardy before they released their slowcore-indebted debut. Cross and Duszynski divorced during the recording process, throwing the album's release into question. It did come out, and a long supporting tour followed, but the idea of a follow-up – let alone one featuring all three members – appeared dubious.
Against all odds, Loma are back, and Brian Eno deserves partial credit. The ambient icon praised the trio's 2017 single "Black Willow" in a radio appearance, and his words helped motivate the band to reconvene. Don't Shy Away is the result of that reformation, and it finds Loma in a more experimental mode. There's even an Eno contribution on the album's closer, "Homing."
At first, the shift is subtle: the presence of woodwinds on opener "I Fix My Gaze," the horn interlude on lead single "Ocotillo." As the album proceeds, though, the arrangements become more diverse and the compositions reflect broader influences. A koto forms the backbone of "Elliptical Days," and there's a hint of Steve Reich to the energetic piano line snaking through "Breaking Waves Like a Stone." If "Thorn" brings early Portishead to mind, "Given a Sign" is closer to synthpop. Straddling genres is nothing new for Loma – their first album blurred the lines between folk and a few strands of '90s indie rock – but Don't Shy Away pushes that ethos further without sacrificing cohesion.
In fact, the new record seems like an inverse of Loma. Where that record retained an analog warmth, Don't Shy Away is its colder digital counterpart. The cathartic dynamic shifts are gone, replaced with subdued crystalline hooks on tracks like "Half Silences" and "Don't Shy Away." It makes for more understated listening, maybe, but it's no less stirring.
All of which makes the band's return a welcome one. Don't Shy Away is ultimately as gratifying as it is ambitious. Brian Eno was right: Loma are the real deal. (Sub Pop)