When she’s fronting Los Angeles (formerly Seattle) surf four-piece La Luz, Shana Cleveland conjures images of haunted beach carnivals with twangy guitar riffs and cotton candied doo-wop harmonies. But as Shana Cleveland and the Sandcastles, she directs her creative energy into the minimalist folk music of the natural world.
Cleveland’s 2015 solo debut, Oh Man, Cover the Ground, passes like a nervous daydream, always wary of something invisible or too far off in the distance to be seen by the naked eye. It sounds inspired by creaking floorboards, sunlight filtering through old trees, or the gradual creep of a mountain’s shadow. For 13 tracks she shreds on the acoustic guitar, freeing nimbly fingerpicked melodies from its hollow figure. It’s incredibly tactile, with rhythms created by musical bodies—feet tap, fingers skim strings, hands clap or create gentle tambourine beats. Any still air is filled with the warm, fragrant bloom of cello, piano, or clarinet.
The 46-second instrumental “(death riff)” slices the album in half, an uneasy intermission that follows “Golden Days” like the fear that nothing will ever be this good again. Cleveland’s voice rises like smoke from a smoldering candle, accenting but never overtaking the songs. Her lyrics are similarly unobtrusive: She sings airily about lust and death without settling into any worn clichés or delving too deep. “Itching Around” even sources inspiration from a La Luz song—“All that big blood,” Cleveland sings, “It’s hard to settle down.”
Oh Man, Cover the Ground deserves a follow-up; its magic is slow, contemplative, and hungry for answers beyond the limits of our sensory perception. Cleveland’s solo Portland show is presented by She Shreds, and all proceeds will benefit the ACLU and the NAACP.