In a little over a year, Lunar Heart have gone from being the new kids in the music scene to one of the community’s most treasured, hard-working bands. Their music, a mix of heartfelt balladry and groove-driven rock songs glazed by synthesizers and crystalline falsetto vocals, has endeared them to many local musicians and showgoers alike (categories that often blend into one another in a small scene like ours). Truly, a band in their position has rarely come complete with a developed sense of identity and style, and perhaps that is what endears them to both ears that are young and naive as well those that have been around long enough to notice when a band knows what it wants and is willing to put in the work to make it happen. For an example of this determination, look no further than Lunar Heart, the band’s second self-released studio album.

When we last heard the band on their debut, Black Ink, their anxious love songs rarely left the comfort zone of the same few chords they were built upon. This helped root bandleader and main songwriter Maria Mendoza’s lyrics to their respective melodies, but did little to distinguish the band’s performances on the record. On Lunar Heart (which was written and released less than a year later), we find the band writing with multiple colors of ink to create a new, vivid portrait of themselves, unlike anything we’ve ever heard from them before. This is a reinvigorated, self-assured Lunar Heart, with attitude and a greater understanding of songwriting dynamics. Every song on Lunar Heart has its own sound, tempo, and environment. Perhaps the thing that had held the band back the most was their lack of rhythmic diversity and clever use of their instruments, which gave Maria’s unique voice little room to show it’s true power.

Lunar Heart (L-R: David Silva, Maria Mendoza, Jesus Mendoza)

Thankfully, on Lunar Heart, the band appears to have figured that all out to a dazzling degree.

The soft, clean and consistent guitar work the band has been known for has made way for overdrive and distortion, adding new rugged textures to the band’s music and giving Maria more room to accent melodies through lead guitar riffage. This is perhaps best exemplified by the song “Puppet”, in which the choruses burst with passionate, razor-sharp power chords between more subdued verses about trying one’s best to feel like they belong. David Silva’s synthwork takes a more tasteful role on the album, providing ambiance when it’s best needed (“Not So Sweet”) and even serving as the core component of a song’s melodic content (“Romance & You”). Jesus Mendoza, the longest-running member of the band after his sister, has brought the drumming to another level on this album as well, articulating a stronger relationship within the rhythm section of the band (“Moon & Back”) and a greater communication throughout the band altogether (“Truly, Not Yours”). Without these developments, the songs on Lunar Heart would not have the same strength and perhaps undermine the greatest development that the band has made.

On Black Ink, Maria’s lyrical voice was confused, frustrated, dejected, and downtrodden. It was an album of descent, disconnection, and defeat. But on Lunar Heart, our protagonist appears to have brushed the dust off their shoulders and looked upward. There’s still themes of love, loss, and tender introspection, but there’s a confidence to it (“Walking Contradiction”), a deeply-rooted sense of self-worth that can face conflict head-on (“Romance & You”) and consider the weight of consequence (“Puppet”). It’s an incredibly mature turn for Maria’s songwriting, and one that I hope her fans will find inspiring in their own lives.

Listen to Lunar Heart on Spotify.