The Austin-based ensemble Loma took their very first tour to Washington DC in early May, delivering a mesmerizing set to a small crowd at DC9. Touring on the backs of their debut album on Sub Pop, Loma spotlighted two incredible assets: the vocals of Emily Cross, and the songwriting and guitar of Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg.
These two principals began working together after Emily’s band Cross Record opened for a successful Shearwater tour in 2016. Fascinated by the idea of writing lyrics and melodies for another singer’s voice, Meiburg approached Cross and her then-husband, Dan Duszynski, with the idea to collaborate. The result is Loma, a very different band that offers fans of both acts an entrancing new vantage point on their music.
Accompanied by various bandmates from Shearwater and Cross Record, Loma did a set that comprised most of the material from their self-titled debut. Opening with the scene-setting “Who Is Speaking,” the set was at times dreamy and distant, and other times urgent and mechanical, showcasing the diversity of influences that makes up Loma. The sweeping melodies of “Joy” show the band at their most folk-influenced, while the metallic clank and clatter on “Relay Runner“ was the band at its most frenzied and energetic.
Loma excels at the intersection of crafting song structure with the influence of sonic collage and musique concrète. Meiburg playfully explained the origins of the found sounds that speckle the Loma catalogue: barking dogs, creaking door hinges, mating frogs, bird calls, and even the grinding moan of a refrigerator at the supermarket near their recording studio. Among the unique assets brought to the band was the keyboard and synthesizer work of Emily Lee, frequently of Shearwater along with other side projects. Her spare and intricate keyboard melody was riveting on “I Don’t Want Children.” Cross’s ex-husband Dan Duszynski was more subdued presence on percussion and further found instruments, although his skills as a sound engineer and multi-instrumentalist were surely evident in the industrial-folk gloom of “Dark Oscillations.”
Given the emotionally fraught context of the recording of their album — Cross and Duszynski divorced during the recording — and the frequently disturbing undertones of the songs themselves, one might’ve expected this to be an emotionally challenging concert to witness. On the contrary, the band members seemed cheerful and obviously delighted by the music and the reception it received from the audience. Emily Cross was shy but engaging with the audience, drawing artwork on a whiteboard between songs and dancing awkwardly during guitar and percussion solos, while Jonathan Meiburg was unabashedly gleeful in his role as composer, guitarist, and sideman. Rarely has he ever given the impression of having this much fun on stage, in his other musical life as the frontman and lead singer of Shearwater, and formerly as the bassist with Okkervil River.
Opening for Loma was Jess Williamson, a fellow Austinite. Williamson comes from a country-influenced indie songwriting tradition that hearkens back to the days of Maria McKee in Lone Justice, and more recently to Jessie Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter. It’s a particularly southwestern sub-genre, and Williamson’s rich alto is equally suited to anxious rock energy as for slow-burning torch songs. She debuted songs from a new record scheduled for release in the coming weeks, along with a well-received collection of songs from her several previous albums.