As you may have read in these very pages a few days ago, Rendezvous is Luna’s final album. After 13 years and seven studio albums, bandleader Dean Wareham decided it was time to cap his second band’s run while it was still riding high and avoid a potential acrimonious breakdown, such as the one that felled his legendary first band, Galaxie 500. As it is, Luna’s original rhythm section of ex-Chills bassist Justin Harwood and ex-Feelies drummer Stanley Demeski– which, along with Wareham, had afforded Luna a sort of indie rock supergroup status– departed in the late 90s, precipitating a gradual shift in the band’s music toward the middle of the road. Thankfully, Wareham put the brakes on before they got there, and Rendezvous is a worthy if not exactly earth-moving capstone to the band’s career.
Luna were never a particularly intense band, but early albums like Bewitched and Penthouse ballasted their whispier tendencies with Wareham and Sean Eden’s searing guitar duels and spiraling VU/TV riffs, which have now changed from sparring matches into polite conversations. They still do lovely things– see the closing moments of “Star-Spangled Man” for a glimpse of the fire that once burned regularly from these fingers– but Rendezvous by and large is an intimate, close-listening affair, stuffed with hushed, rewarding melodies, subtly lulling backing vocals from bassist Britta Phillips, and the occasional surprising textural ripple.
Wareham could never be accused of being a gifted vocalist but at this stage of his life, he’s learned to tailor what he sings to fit his natural instrument, and his relaxed, steady nonchalance puts the right spin on his lyrical wit and self-deprecation. Eden takes the mic on two songs here, too, and he makes the most of it– particularly when his Jason Lytle-ish tenor climbs to a spellbinding falsetto in the gorgeous chorus of the impeccably spacey ballad “Broken Chair.”
Impeccable is really the order of the day, as every note feels well-selected from a matching set, and even when the band kicks up the tempo– as they do on “Astronaut”– they demonstrate restraint. Drummer Lee Wall, usually filling in space with his brushes and generally staying out of the way, gets to let loose a bit on the song with a barreling motorik beat as Wareham wryly references the Tamil Tigers in his worshipful/self-effacing entreaties to a lover. As notexD0perfect as it all is, though, it’s also a tad predictable, and the pretty slide guitar interjections and melodic rhythm guitar parts add up merely to the sum of their parts, which is impressive but never transcendent.
Seriously though, if you’re a Wareham fan, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Luna’s discography– lackluster live album aside– has been remarkably consistent, with a few high peaks but nary a valley in sight, and Rendezvous continues that trend. All of the members already have other projects in the works (Philips and Wareham have already released a side album as a duo), and it seems as though they will put Luna rather quickly behind them. I’m sad to see them go, but I’m glad they went out strong.