Luna: Penthouse (1995)

Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips will be streaming a live performance Saturday night, which seemed like a good enough reason to circle back to Luna.

As noted previously, I instantly fell in love with the band's 1992 debut, Lunapark; and 1994's Bewitched, which saw them hitting the brakes and quieting down a bit, was no less great (particularly the wonderful single "California (All The Way)"). But it was on the third one that they really seemed to find their voice, Wareham no longer being that guy from Galaxie 500 but really establishing Luna as a band no less significant and a key player in the 90s indie scene alongside Pavement, Guided by Voices, Yo La Tengo et al.  Justin Harwood (ex-Chills) and Stan Demeski (ex-Feelies) are still onboard (Demeski would depart afterwards, Harwood a few albums later), and lead guitarist Sean Eden, who joined for Bewitched, is fully integrated.

The more frenetic side of Lunapark is largely left behind, replaced by a gauzy, mid-tempo dream pop that retains the moody psychedelia while adding a distinctive, sophisticated urbane quality. The opening line of "Chinatown" -- "In the tiny tiny hours, 'tween the evening and the day" -- ably sets the scene, the entire work suitable for an after-hours kickback. The album is highlighted by the catchy single "Sideshow By The Seashore," with its unique twang-bar guitar riff, and the trippy "23 Minutes In Brussels," a slowed-down "Sister Ray" groove with some hypnotic extended jams (including a visit from Television's Tom Verlaine). Sort-of closing track "Freakin' and Peakin'" revisits the Velvet Underground jam motif to great effect. (The original version of the CD tacked on a hidden cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Bonnie & Clyde," and it's fabulous.)

While the coolly languid pace dominates, the band does throw in the occasional rocker, with "Hedgehog" recalling the percolating fizz of the debut album; but for the most part it's a laid back affair, songs like "Kalamazoo" offering a pleasant place to lose yourself.

(For podcast fans, Wareham recently provided a terrific overview of the album on the Life of the Record podcast, definitely check it out.)

Here's "Sideshow" live in the studio a couple years back:
...and a nice live "23 Minutes":
...and a live "Bonnie & Clyde":