Even before the pandemic spawned a ceaseless flow of My Most Personal Album Yets, La Luz frontperson Shana Cleveland forged her own path with her debut solo album Night of the Worm Moon in 2019, nearly a decade into the career of her still-active surf-rock outfit. The pivot felt warranted primarily for the outpouring of decidedly un-La-Luz-like neo-psych sounds and Spaghetti Western motifs populating that effort, though Cleveland’s venturing into sci-fi lyricism inspired by Sun Ra also felt like a bit of a departure from the tight parameters of her primary band.
Manzanita, then, feels like a proper sequel to that project, even if its sci-fi themes are a bit more grounded in certain everyday realities Cleveland found herself experiencing for the first time as the album was coming together—namely, pregnancy. The record’s opening track, she notes, is about being possessed by “an invisible being that was slowly taking over my mind and body” (an affliction that culminated in a newborn son), while the ensuing tracklist addresses other commonalities such as her immediate natural surroundings through this biologically altered lens, as well as a new perspective courtesy of the downtime her pregnancy necessitated.
The result is yet another merging of pulp storytelling and otherworldly ideas commingling with psych-folk textures, though this time around there’s a newfound stillness and pastoralism running through the tracks’ DNA at times recalling the haunting soundscapes of Daniel Rossen. Like her peer Kyle Thomas from King Tuff, Cleveland was able to capture the essence of her reconnection to nature in these recordings, leading to 10 unique testimonies to her new outlook.
With the record dropping today via Hardly Art, you can read along to Cleveland’s notes on each of the tracks as you stream Manzanita below.
1. “A Ghost”
This one’s about when I was possessed by an invisible being that was slowly taking over my mind and body while I had this condition called “pregnancy.” I never really gave pregnancy and childbirth very much thought, and when I became pregnant I was surprised by how much of a psychedelic experience it was. When I sat outside our house looking out across the field, the chemistry and shape of my body constantly changed by the primal process, I understood that I was no different than the plants and animals around me.
2. “Faces in the Firelight”
“Faces in the Firelight” is about watching my partner Will [Sprott] tend to a huge burn pile that was still going long after dark and realizing that out there in the dark field he looked like the ultrasound image we had on our fridge. I was thinking that the greatest act of love might be to wait for someone. To say, “I’ll be here whenever you’re done, whenever you’re ready.”
3. “Mystic Mine”
This is a love letter to rural life. Where we live, people have rotting cars scattered on their lawns like the carrion that keeps the country sky full of vultures. Walking around you might see a stray spinal column, or a Coors Light can from before you were born—little reminders of your own mortality. When I’m writing and playing guitar outside I feel open to all of the drama of the country while seemingly alone in the universe.
4. “Quick Winter Sun”
On this record I alternate between standard and Gm tuning on my guitar. Gm is a dark, mysterious tuning and, to me, its recurrence throughout different tracks contributes to the atmosphere of the album as a whole. This is a song about going to the river in the winter and staying too late.
5. “Gold Tower”
At a certain point in the development of a person in the womb they look vaguely human but their skin is transparent. This song was written during a time when my partner was traveling overseas and I was alone in our rural home with this growing transparent being. I spent a lot of time reading pulp sci-fi and playing guitar while staring off into the wilderness. This is a little fantasy lullabye written to my son about total devotion and letting go of everything that came before.
Much of motherhood is quietly terrifying, and so I wanted this song to begin like a horror film. Before sunrise the speaker is watching someone who may or may not know they are being watched. As the song ends we find the titular Babe casually approaching a rattlesnake.
7. “Ten Hour Drive Through West Coast Disaster”
Will plays synth behind this poem I wrote after one of many drives from the Pacific Northwest to our home in California. During wildfire season on the West Coast, which gets longer every year, it’s difficult not to think apocalyptically. I was wondering if it was irresponsible to bring a child into a world where everything was always catching on fire, where so many people and animals were suffering. For me, the answer to this kind of existential dread is usually immersion in deep nature, like at the waterfall that we have to hike a ways to get to and once we’re there the rest of the world tends to fall away in the roar of the water.
8. “Evil Eye”
This one’s about deciding to stop trying to please someone who will never be pleased. Another G minor tuning song.
Someone named Mayonnaise was singing this song in a dream I had, and when I woke up I sang the melody into my voice recorder so I wouldn’t forget it. This is a song for Richard Brautigan, whose books I’ve loved since I was a teenager. Mayonnaise is the last word of Brautigan’s most famous book, Trout Fishing in America, so I thought it made sense to write the song as tribute to him. Brautigan wrote these beautiful short stories and poems about places up and down the West Coast and had a way of illuminating the beauty and fragility of being human in simple language and wild metaphors.
10. “Walking Through Morning Dew”
In California, spring is the season when nature comes inside. The house is suddenly full of weird bugs, “Everything is blindingly in bloom.” This is a song about spring and rebirth. Looking at my son’s face and seeing his resemblance to my grandma, Jeanette, who died years before he was born. A picture I have of my grandma when she was a prom queen is in the liner notes of the album with this lyric: “In your crown and all surrounded by those girls you knew / Good to see it all come back around so soon.”