Luna Aura’s debut EP puts Phoenix at center of indie-pop universe

The cosmic sounds of Luna Aura’s eponymous debut EP are tinted throughout with infectious pop hooks, hip-hop sass and a vocal range that can go from raspy croons to sticky-sweet serenades in the blink of an alien eye.

Aura’s musical experience has been steeped in the Phoenix art scene, from her early years learning to appreciate the value of a good beat dancing to Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” with the neighborhood girls in her garage to performing at First Fridays to eventually being able to play the Crescent Ballroom, which she has identified as her favorite local venue because of its ability to hold a large crowd without losing intimacy.

Along with her years performing around the Phoenix area, Aura also spent periods in Los Angeles with her parents auditioning for programs such as “America’s Got Talent,” something which prepared her to set off to Capitol Records in Los Angeles to record the EP in April 2014.

With influences ranging everywhere from Norah Jones to Childish Gambino to Katy Perry, Aura’s persona and style can only be described as delightfully eclectic. She somehow seamlessly manages to blend tracks full of a Perry-esque self-assurance in “Blow” and “Too Young to Die” with Jones-inspired poeticism found in “Radio” and “Eyez.”

“Norah Jones’s first album spoke to me so much; it was really my first realization that music could be poetic. Her voice, her lyrics … it was all so artsy and beautiful and jazzy,” Aura said. “Katy Perry has a very unapologetic ‘I say what I want to say’ attitude that I think I emulate with my live performances.”

Aura’s dynamic EP sprung from a bit of a personal crisis brought on by a period of self-described stagnancy, where she was “writing music that was good but not making (her) happy.” During this time, she was accepted to Berklee College of Music in Boston and had decided to attend, even selling her car and signing a lease for an apartment. Then, a week before she was set to move, she decided to follow her instinct and stay in Phoenix.

“I was a little depressed after that. I needed to take control of my life. I didn’t need to go anywhere to be successful. I just needed to stop writing what people expected me to,” Aura said. “I just went into the studio with my buddy Shawn. and we started throwing out beats. I wrote all the music on the EP. … I felt like I was stuck. I wanted to reinvent myself. Now I feel like I’m completely free to be whatever I want.”

The confidence and maturity that Aura fostered in herself during this period are poignantly displayed in the EP’s second cut, “Blow,” on which she raps in her still somehow melodic voice about female empowerment and success in the age of third-wave feminism. Aura, in her girlish hip-hop style, encourages women to throw it all out there, to “make it blow” so to speak, in order to get what they want in the world, rather than sitting idly by as they have been taught to do.

“I want for women to know: You’re strong; you’re beautiful; everything you do is awesome,” Aura explained. “I’m a newfound feminist and definitely a new-age one, where it’s more about empowering one another and knowing your self-worth rather than trying to overcome obstacles. I have a little sister, and I think it’s important that I teach her that. Why wouldn’t I want the rest of the world to learn those lessons, too?”

While absolutely an indie musician, self-proclaimed feminist Aura expresses nothing but the utmost respect for her female counterparts in popular music as she understands the struggle for anyone to get to the heights of music royalty, much less for a woman to do so.

“For so long, it’s been about girls growing up and being told to sit still in your pretty little dress and be polite and you’ll get everything you were ever promised, but if you’re going to get anywhere, you have to throw it all out there,” Aura said. “I love Nicki Minaj, because she goes so hard, and she’s so funny and kooky and empowered. She lives her life and does whatever she wants to do and she isn’t trying to be anyone’s role model. She’s so ratchet, and I love it.”

In contrast with the bombast of cuts like “Blow” and “Wicked,” the opener, “Radio,” features Aura’s voice at its smoothest and most melodic, accompanied by traditional pop-style lyrics and a trance-like synth backing. The careful dissonance of the song causes it to stick more than anything else on the EP as it compares attraction to the way that a catchy song sticks in your head. By combining her almost twinkling vocals with the almost hip hop-esque lyrics, Aura creates a type of irony that brings depth and originality to a seemingly simple indie pop hit in the making, a feat that is carried on throughout the rest of the album and secures Aura’s talents both as a songwriter and as the malicious creator of songs so catchy and artfully composed that one can’t help but listen to them over and over again.

The release of Aura’s monumental debut will be celebrated on Aug. 30 with an EP release party at the Lustre Rooftop Garden at the Hotel Palomar in Downtown Phoenix, and will feature performances by two DJs as well as one from Aura herself. Discounted tickets can be found here.

 

Reach the reporter at ezenter@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @emilymzentner