After heading Philadelphia’s psychedelic-shoegaze band Stellarscope through a barrage of tasty noise-rock releases, Tommy Lugo has decided it was time to make music as a solo artist. That is not to say that Stellarscope has been pushed to the side for Lugo. Rather, the band remains his main focus, and together Stellarscope continues to create wild and borderline abstract music. Nevertheless, with his own record label and studio at his disposal, Lugo found himself with the means to explore diverging aspects of his craft that Stellarscope has only hinted to in their output. On Alumbra, under the name of Panophonic, Lugo veers off to even more otherworldly territory than Stellarscope. Singing entirely in Spanish (Lugo is of Puerto Rican descent), Lugo utilizes more electronics, drones and atmospherics on Alumbra, creating a haunting, mesmorizing, and at times mournful mood.
As on every Stellarscope release, Lugo makes good use of his passionate voice, a tool shoegazers are rarely known for. Right off the bat, on the opening track “Desde El Baranco”, Lugo’s voice slithers in amidst the electronic down-tempo beats and hazy sounds. Throughout Alumbra, Lugo’s Spanish emotion-filled vocals give the CD an exotic feel, and provide a clear melodic continuity and structure to the songs. But don’t be mistaken: Alumbra is all about Lugo’s expert manipulation of sounds into human moods. Listen to the dreamy post-lude of “Veo a La Dejadez”, and the glacial intro to “Enfermedad”. Both songs feature patiently built layers of delayed guitars and keys. “Enfermedad” sees Lugo also layering his vocals, and his voice trails off to unite with the pastoral drones. “Extraña Sonata” starts out as a relatively normative song (if “normal” can ever be used to describe Panophonic’s music), with its light electronic beat and strong melody, before quickly evolving into a dreamy psychedelic trip. “Que Fue”, with its upfront vocals, synths, casio-sounding beats, and chunky guitars, almost treads off into the new wave realm while retaining Lugo’s shoegaze soul. While Alumbra showcases Lugo’s experimental side, he also shows on songs like “Hablar” his ability to write a memorable and touching song, while incorporating bold-sounding atmospherics into the song. “Incierto” is a mellow affair, with icy-sounding keys, dirge-like vocals, and light and subtle electronics. The mood is tragic, cathartic, and hypnotic on this track, striking a fine balance between the atmosphere of dreampop and raw emotion. “Sin Invitación” is a fuller-produced song, with nice echoing guitar work bouncing off of Lugo’s distinct vocals. The song builds subtlety to a climax of moaning guitars (a la The Edge) over a groovy bass line. “Llego La Hora” is a gentler song, a few times removed from the radio, yet perhaps closer to a radio-ballad than any other song on Alumbra. the song features light keys dancing off of restrained drum machine and guitar parts, while Lugo shows off his sensitive singing ability. In the end, “Llego La Hora” combines these elements to become a very listenable song. The epic “”Siempre Como Antes” quakes with intensity, both in the songwriting and in the sounds, while “El Tiempo” is an understated but chilling experiment in vibe. Ominous drones cover over bubbling electronics and emotive vocals, giving “El Tiempo” an unnerving feeling. “Y Tu en Mi” is a masterful blend of experimentation and strong melodies, ending off Alumbra on the theme that Lugo has worked to establish throughout the disc.
So, while Alumbra does delve into new territory for Lugo with stronger electronics, hazier atmospherics, and all Spanish lyrics, all of the elements that make Lugo (and Stellarscope) fascinating are intact: good songs, unique vocals, and a love for the shoegaze ethos. Indeed, Lugo has established, through Stellarscope, and now Panophonic, a distinct and identifiable sound that all shoegaze fans will appreciate. Alumbra succeeds in elongating that distinct sound, and bravely pushes it forward in novel ways. As such, Alumbra succeeds nicely as Lugo’s attempt to craft a more personal, experimental, and adventurous shoegaze recording.