“An intelligent album that distances itself from pop simply because it’s far too dense in subject matter to be grouped with radio fodder.”
“An intelligent album that distances itself from pop simply because it’s far too dense in subject matter to be grouped with radio fodder.”
‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ is simply lovely and if it’s biggest problem is that it’s come too soon after the last then surely we can forgive.
You can tell when an album has been made without love. It sounds devoid, lacking interest and its immediately obvious to the listener or the fan. Theres a chance that Neon Indians 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, hes 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 wont 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 Cest La Vie (Say The Casualties!). By that time, it feels as if hes 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 hes singing about paying expensive rent to a landlord, hes doing so with a gleeful falsetto nestled amongst glowing synths and a hip-shaking bassline. He slows things down for Babys Eyes but its 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 theres 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 songs 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 hes 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 its also one of the albums 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, its one of the most cohesive things to come out this year and hes excelled in creating and maintaining a mood from start to finish.
Its hard to call a record fun without making it sound somewhat simplistic and overriding its artistic complexities. VEGA INTL. is not simplistic. Its full of gorgeous sounds, interesting vocal melodies and production that effortlessly melds together a plethora of sounds. But, its a fun record and thats something that couldnt be said about his previous two releases. Its got the same appeal that comes to you after three of four drinks when lights start to glimmer and youre 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 thats the name of the record. Its a subtle sign that hes not taking himself too seriously. As much as the record is full of things to please others hes put little touches in just to please himself and thats 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.
NINE OUT OF TEN.
He’s pouring everything out, giving into every desire and that’s a thrilling accomplishment in a world where “honesty” means a handwritten note posted on Instagram.
“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.”
First thoughts on their dark second album – heard suitably in pitch black with a bunch of strangers.
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.
EIGHT POINT FIVE OUT OF TEN
When Miley Cyrus attempted to break from the Disney mould in 2010 with Can’t Be Tamed nobody could’ve anticipated just how far she’d go. Since then she’s gyrated Robin Thicke and her vagina with a giant styrofoam hand live on stage, stripped off for most magazines and even rapped on a Mike Will Made It track, however, this latest one seems to be the most surprising. Back then it would’ve almost been impossible to anticipate a drug-influenced Miley Cyrus collaboration with The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne packaged as a 23 track free album. Actually, two weeks ago it would’ve been impossible to anticipate that but it’s happened and well, it’s not all bad.
The fact is Cyrus broke away from the Disney mould a long time ago. Nowadays, nobody expects her to be Hannah Montana on stage nor on record and we’re somewhat not shocked by her nudity and drug-use now. She’s at the point at her career where she’s an actual grown-up evolving sonically just like Madonna did and even Beyonce to a certain extent if you look at Dangerously In Love as compared to her surprise album. Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz though goes from one extreme to the other in a heartbeat. She’s gone from rebellious pop princess to drugged-up alternative singer in a matter of months and the issue is her fans may not be heading down the same path quite as fast, if at all.
First the bad. The 23 track collection just drags on far too long. Cyrus seems to have been influenced by Coyne’s inability to self-edit and instead of cutting the dead-weight and delivering a knockout, she’s let down the golden moments by a few real shockers. Opener Dooo It! is obnoxious and painfully literal almost acting as a foreword to the album that says “I take drugs, I’m grown and if you think I’m going to stick to the same sound you can fuck off.” Thankfully this one is a stylistic outcast on what is mostly a heartfelt record but her desire to ostracise the old-Miley listener continues on Milky Milky Milk and BB Talk, although the latter is one of the more entertaining moments on the album. She also ruins 1 Sun’s ‘80s-inspired energy with a preachy, ill-informed save the earth lecture.
If you pulled out a chisel and chipped away at this record, you’d uncover a gem. Unbelievably, the good actually outweighs the bad and for all its weaknesses, this is actually some of Cyrus’ best work. Her voice is in its best habitat here and the roughness of the production throughout houses her better than some of the crisp, manicured work on Bangerz.
Coyne’s involvement is the weak link for most of it but he does help out on a few moment of brilliance. Karen Don’t Be Sad is beautifully sparse and benefits from Coyne’s comfortability in imperfection while Tangerine is a woozy daydream weighted by Big Sean’s impressive verse. It seems the pair work when they’re mixing said with elated euphoria and avoiding hallucinations that are really hard to connect with. On Evil With A Shadow, the pair take a trip down a rabbit hole that seemingly just keeps going and going with no resolve. It’s clear both of them suffer from getting carried away and it just happens on so many occasions.
Thankfully Coyne isn’t the only collaborator. Bangerz champion Mike Will Made It is back and unsurprisingly contributes most of the best moments of the LP. Most of his inclusions are on tracks about relationships rather than trips or dead pets and it’s really refreshing. Fweaky is the album’s first really intimate, slow-burning number and acts as a companion to a career highlight for Cyrus. Both of them use notions of drug use but compare them to that feeling of euphoria in a relationship. “When I need the fire, you’re always my lighter,” she sings on Lighter grabbing at the heartstrings ‘80s-tinged thundering percussion. Mike Will even manages to tap in on some of the weirder tracks like I Forgive Yiew which feels like 4×4 replaced country with psychedelia.
Oren Yoel who worked on Adore with Cyrus, returns here for a number of great tracks. Like Lighter and Fweaky, his tracks feel as if they’re channeling the comedown when real life realisations rear their ugly head. I Get So Scared is beautifully tender and forthright with Cyrus singing, “I get so scared thinking I’ll never get over you.” It’s a reminder that while she’s great at being weird and OTT, she’s actually a really honest songwriter with a voice that cuts through emotionally. “I get so high because you’re not here smoking my weed,” she sings on Space Boots, once again combining drugs and relationships for a lonely but poignant image.
As for her dead pets – the dog and the blowfish – they both get a song. The Floyd Song (Sunrise), about her dog that died a few days before her tour feels like another Coyne/Cyrus tangent which is let down by its lo-fi production while Pablow The Blowfish’s melody is touching but its lyrics are hard to swallow, particularly when she breaks down towards the end.
In many ways Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz is exciting. It’s exciting that an artist of her age is willing to take changes and give us something completely off the beaten track, particularly when she is a pop icon. It’s hard to imagine any pop star taking on a song like BB Talk and go on a fuck-filled tangent about cutesy shit and actually pull it off. There’s so much to enjoy here but that’s only if you can stomach it long enough.
Here’s some advice – listen through once, cherry-pick 12 to 14 tracks and make your own Miley Cyrus album. Then you’ll fully be able to sit with the songs and realise that at its core, this album has a really tender heart, beautiful melodies and a voice behind it that’s actually captivating, if not at times infuriating.
Ever since they teased us with a 12-second clip in early June that eventually turned out to be a snippet of What Went Down’s title track, it’s fair to say there’s been a pretty huge amount of anticipation for Foals’ fourth studio record. More intrigue resulted from an interview that front-man Yannis Phillipakis did with triple j, where he suggests that the band were only just beginning to hit their straps as a band and that he expected their best work to come on their seventh or even eight albums. Perhaps this was a soft reference to their somewhat disappointing third album Holy Fire, which was really held up by the brilliance of a few singles; My Number, Late Night and Inhaler.
Regardless, What Went Down is kind of exactly what you’d expect from Foals at this point in time. This latest creative effort seems to channel the varying styles of previous albums and does so in the most satisfying and successful way. It is also manifestly more effective at bringing together the many styles of group than Holy Fire was able to.
As has been the case with their last two LPs, Foals have included an epic ballad titled A Knife In The Ocean. This is a trend that began two albums ago with the shockingly amazing Spanish Sahara, and on this particular record A Knife In The Ocean is testament to the ability of Foals to not only build gripping tension throughout a track, as well as having the ability captivate an audience for an extended period.
What Went Down also includes several tracks that follow what seems to be this growing trend for the group towards a slower, more introspective style of song. Tracks such as these illustrate just how far the band has come since the fiddly and often substance-lacking guitar licks that dominated their first LP Antidotes. Give It All is one such track within this more chiller style, but it is dwarfed by the darkness and emotion of London Thunder. London Thunder is truly a momentous tune both musically and lyrically, and it makes subtle references to the journey the group undertaken as well as their origins, with deeply emotional lyrics like “Come back to London Thunder, the sound of sorrow in my room… and now the tables turn, it’s over, and with my fingers burned I start a new”.
Finally we start to get into the luminous funk that those who’ve been listening since Antidotes have come to expect from Yannis, Jack and co. Night Swimmers throws back to the gorgeously light guitar countermelodies that caught the ears of many back in 2008, whilst also getting into some gritty bass. Similar ideas are explored in the funky Birch Tree, which is also definitely their most audience friendly sing-a-long track, and also is a prime example of how far Yannis’ vocals have come since he was primarily doing a kind-of speak/yell/sing deal on very early tracks like Red Socks Pugie and Two Steps Twice. Several tracks including Lonely Hunter which explores texture through its use of layering include Yannis’ multi-tracking his vocals over themselves in new ways that only scratches the surface of the incredible depth of his ability as an artist.
Those expecting some proper British rock are treated to a couple of tracks that involve some seriously heavy basslines and much more intense vocals. Snake Oil is built around this dirty bass/guitar riff that gets grungier as the track goes along, but it is in the title track though that we get the absolute best of heavier rock side to this incredibly versatile band. What Went Down is proof that Foals are not afraid to keep heavy British rock alive, and its only downfall is that it is really the only harder track of its kind on the album.
Although this is another album from Foals that shows of their unique versatility as a group, there is definitely a slight lacking of continuity between the various tracks on the album. In other words it’s not a record that is necessarily enhanced by being listened to as a whole, and perhaps that’s not what they were aiming for. Despite this, there has definitely been a conscious effort to create an album that is consistently of a higher quality across the whole record, and it’s clear that this goal has been smashed with What Went Down.