Luz Elena Mendoza, the singer-songwriter behind Portland-based band Y La Bamba, has proven herself to be one of the more restlessly inventive artists in indie rock today. Watching Mendoza grow – and, through her, seeing Y La Bamba grow – has been an enervating experience. While Y La Bamba has always been presented through the prism of Mendoza's perspective, the form of the music has expanded into something positively kaleidoscopic, dazzling in both tone and vision. What started as a serenely beautiful solo project has steadily blown up into something much richer in scope.
To date, the result of this growth is Mujeres, which was released earlier this year. (Its follow-up, Entre Los Dos, arrives in a manner of days.) The peccadilloes of Mendoza are all accounted for on Mujeres: brazenly emotional intimacy, a fluid blending of Mexican-American musical touchstones, and an innate sense for pristine melodies and harmonies to cut through the din. What Mujeres has, though, is another step forward in sonic ambition for Y La Bamba. As always, there's an underpinning of dream-pop, lending an ethereal buoyancy to the proceedings, but that's been augmented with stabs of New Wave angularity, psychedelic headiness, and tricky rhythms that rush in to disrupt dance floor grooves.
Along the way, Mendoza's voice – sometimes commanding, sometimes achingly vulnerable – remains that grounding force that prevents Y La Bamba's music from surging off into the sky. It's her voice, singing powerfully in advocacy of feminism and Chicana representation, that makes the music of Y La Bamba all the more valuable, reinforcing and doubling the impact that is already present with the instruments. Mendoza makes music that looks both forward and back, with an eye on the present: preserving artistic traditions, fighting for a future worth living, and holding those with a voice accountable for helping us get there. That it's all wrapped in such a magnetic, eminently compelling package is what makes Y La Bamba an indispensable band.
Y La Bamba is playing at Alma Mater October 26th, all ages. You can buy tickets here.