Album Of The Week: Neon Indian - VEGA INTL. Night School

AlbumOfTheWeek_NeonIndianYou can tell when an album has been made without love. It sounds devoid, lacking interest and it’s immediately obvious to the listener or the fan. There’s a chance that Neon Indian’s third record could of been exactly that. After making the critically acclaimed Era Extrana on the road and touring it extensively Alan Palomo went through what many musicians do at the same point in their career - it started to feel like a job instead of anything else. While some keep going, Palomo took time off, went to film school, worked on a film score and performed DJ sets.

Four years after Era Extrana, he’s gifted us with VEGA INTL. Night School - a record by an artist who sounds re-energised, inspired and in love once again with music. This is the funnest, most accessible Neon Indian album yet. The chillwave production that permeated Era Extrana is still there in the electronic haze that runs through the record but this is a crisper, more immediate production complete with groovy licks and ‘80s-tinged synth work.

It won’t take you more than a few tracks to recognise that Palomo has been inspired by his stint performing DJ sets. VEGA INTL. Night School is for the most part entirely mixed together and gets progressively faster from the laid-back groove of Annie, it peaks just shy of 120 BPM on C’est La Vie (Say The Casualties!). By that time, it feels as if he’s managed to get everybody on their feet, pulling them into his neon, ‘80s-conceived futuristic world.

Where Era Extrana sounded occasionally melancholic, VEGA INTL. leaves barely a moment to be glum. Even on Slumlord when he’s singing about paying expensive rent to a landlord, he’s doing so with a gleeful falsetto nestled amongst glowing synths and a hip-shaking bassline. He slows things down for Baby’s Eyes but it’s got more of a last two people left at the disco vibe rather than a sad one. “Never coming home again until they see the world as I see you,” he sings simultaneously complimenting his “baby” and critiquing the “world.”

For the most part VEGA INTL. deals with infatuation. It feels as if there’s a girl lit up by a blue hue dancing right in front of his eye as he sings these tunes in a moody, underground NYC bar. Palomo has said that he learns more about human nature after dark, referring to clubs or bars as night schools. The after dark part comes across with the synth-soaked haze that looms on every song while he builds a genuine interest for the song’s character through the lyrics. “Every time I see her my heart beats on display,” he sings on Dear Skorpio Magazine.

“Her” seems to be a reccurent character, whether he’s looking for her in Annie or singing “just you and I” on the romantic stomper Techno Clique. The latter may be the closest we will ever get to a Neon Indian club jam and it’s also one of the album’s obvious highlights for its twinkling synths and racing climax.

His fascination for this character is beaten only by his intrigue for the night. Every song has a distinct night setting whether it be people deserting the streets for a party at 61 Cygni Ave or turning the lights down on Smut! Sonically, it’s one of the most cohesive things to come out this year and he’s excelled in creating and maintaining a mood from start to finish.

It’s hard to call a record fun without making it sound somewhat simplistic and overriding its artistic complexities. VEGA INTL. is not simplistic. It’s full of gorgeous sounds, interesting vocal melodies and production that effortlessly melds together a plethora of sounds. But, it’s a fun record and that’s something that couldn’t be said about his previous two releases. It’s got the same appeal that comes to you after three of four drinks when lights start to glimmer and you’re momentarily in love with everybody.

It feels like Palomo is in love with this record and once again in love with what he does. The biggest sign of this is during Smut! when he says the lyric “night school” and follows it up with a voice exclaiming, “hey that’s the name of the record.” It’s a subtle sign that he’s not taking himself too seriously. As much as the record is full of things to please others he’s put little touches in just to please himself and that’s the mark of an artist enjoying himself.

In a climate where people are manufacturing musical fun for clubs and festivals, Neon Indian may have uncovered pure joy in the most unlikely of places - a quirky, hazey, ‘80s-tinged record.



Album Of The Week: CHVRCHES - 'Every Open Eye'

"It is the small intricacies and explorations in structure, and diversity of texture that they have developed since their last record and that exist between the tracks here, that show just how far they have come as a group in terms of diversity."


Album Of The Week: Empress Of - 'Me'


In many ways Me - the debut album from NYC singer Empress Of fulfils its title. She recorded it in isolation, self-produced it and wrote it about herself but interestingly she’s not the only predominant character on the record. While Me is entirely about Lorely Rodriguez, she spends much of the record delving into a part relationship using that other person to evoke feelings of claustrophobia and aid the realisation that she wants to be free and alone. “I’m making love to myself, when I’m making love to you...I think I’m the one I need,” she sings on Need Myself. Me, for all its immediate simplicity as a title actually turns out to be a complex exploration of her inner-most turmoils realised by her relationship with someone else.

From Need Myself to To Get By, a desire to be alone is a recurring lyrical theme on the record and like life imitating art, being alone is exactly what she did to create the record. Rodriguez plucked herself from New York and set up in a friend’s house in Mexico to record the album, confronting loneliness and fear for a month in a picturesque but isolated setting. That time left alone results in the album in deeply personal, reflective thought that gives a really dark edge to the set of sprawling, expansive alt-pop songs.

Beginning with the gentle, gushing Everything Is You we seem to descend further and further into Me as we move through the ten songs. The soundscapes get fuller, the lyrics get more personal and her voice gets fuller and takes flight. “Everything I do is because of you,” she sings on the opener making a realisation about a relationship that seems to become more and more claustrophobic as the record goes on.

Predictably, the album is dark. Lead-single Water Water creeps towards you in a demonic way with its trudging beats and elongated vocals. Similarly,  Kitty Kat has an industrial weight to it furthered by Rodriguez singing “let me walk away.” Too often do artists get lost inside their heads and have difficulty converting it for the audience, but however dark Me gets she always manages to pair it with an elated instrumental. On the aforementioned Kitty Kat sprawling synths elevate the chorus while the beats on Need Myself are perky and light.

She’s also got quite the knack for electronic pop, crafting a certified banger with How Do You Do It built around an effortless synth-line that Todd Terje would be jealous of. It’s just the reprieve that’s needed to get through the entire record without feeling as if you’ve inherited all of Rodriguez’s fears and instabilities. There’s actually a sense of freedom in her ever-expanding vocal too that comes through particularly on Make Up as she reaches giddy heights singing, “why don’t we make up our own rules and break them when we like.”

She breaks from the theme of relationships at least once for album highlight Standard which talks of life in New York City and the social injustices of New York. The beat sounds icy - the type that could only be conjured by living in an expensive but tiny NYC apartment in the midst of winter. There’s a certain romanticism attached to New York which is often squashed when you actually have to make a living there and you can feel that frustration on Standard.

Interestingly if you follow the tracklist of Me as a chronological order, she yearns for to be alone and then when she actually is, she feels uncomfortable. “I don’t want to feel so alone,” she sings on Threat which is a distinctive change of tune from Need Myself. This continues on Icon as she sings “every minute paces like an hour when I’m just in a room with the lights on.”
On Me, Rodriguez constantly changes what she wants based on whatever situation she’s in which is human instinct - the grass is always greener. It’s that feeling exactly which makes Me never feel completely comfortable but always utterly captivating. For the 10 songs we sit inside her innermost thoughts circled by howling synths and thumping beats that move between full force and a gentler intensity. Step away from the lyrical depth of Me and you’ve got a crisply-produced, incredibly well-conceived pop album that expands throughout. That alone is thrilling but add the lyrical depth to it and it becomes one of the most intriguing projects of the year - an exploration of self that provides more questions than answers. And that’s completely ok.