Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, Neon Indian sheds its “chillwave” brand and swaps it out for a unique blend of synth-pop, disco, techno and even some reggae influences for a successful double album, “Vega Intl. Night School.”
From Denton, Texas, Neon Indian is an American electronic music band, consisting of Alan Palomo, Jason Faries, Ed Priesner and Joshua McWhirter Before its latest work, “Vega Intl. Night School,” the band has released two studio albums to favorable reviews.
The headman of the band, Alan Palomo, spent four years DJing on a cruise ship in between this album and Neon Indian’s last foray, “Era Extraña,” in 2011, and the influence is seen throughout the album.
One of these influences shows itself as one of the album’s greatest feats: a continuous groove. This continuous groove persists from song to song throughout the entire album. The album kicks off after a short one-minute intro track with the caribbean-disco jam “Annie.” After this, the groove is never dropped until the album itself ends.
Despite having a consistent tone to link all the songs together, this continuity doesn’t detract from the identity of the album’s individual tracks. Like the fifth track “Bozo.” Sure the song is short and only looks like an interlude track, but it stands out among the tracklist for having a killer beat reminiscent of something off of the Avalanches “Since I Left You” or an older Daft Punk track. And then there’s the song that follows, “Glitzy Hive,” which is my personal favorite, with simple instrumentation, simpler lyrics and a chorus that will get stuck in your head for days on end.
The continuous groove can get somewhat tiring and repetitive as the songs blend into one another; yet, this is also something that defines the album. This continuous non-stop groove draws comparisons to albums such as Disclosure’s “Settle” or the previously mentioned “Since I left You” by The Avalanches. The album is like listening to a live-set by a DJ: you don’t know what’s going to come next, but you do know that it’s gonna be something you can dance to.
This resemblance among songs is no more evident then on the transition from “Slumlord’s Re-Lease” to “Techno Clique.” The album comes to a full stop after two minutes of the lyric-less bongo-and-synths jam of “Slumlord’s Re-Lease,” only for a second before jumping into the dreamy ascending synths of “Techno Clique.”
As the title suggests, the album is dedicated to the night-life; as such, the arc of the album covers the course of a night. The sun is just going down with the song “Annie” with its bright instrumentation and energetic beat. The night continues as the album goes on, you can even hear the background noises of a club on “The Glitzy Hive.” Then you get to the track “Slumlord” and things take a turn. Where once the night was exciting, energetic, and filled with joy, now the night has become something darker, more abstract and very psychedelic. That is until the next morning comes with “61 Cygni Ave” and “News from the Sun (live bootleg)” which bring back the bright instrumentation and energy found earlier in the album.
This album, for all its psychedelic-disco charm and nighttime epics, stumbles a bit towards the end. If the album can be praised for giving each song its own unique identity, it should be criticized when this attempt at uniqueness creates a track that is too weird for its own good. “Baby’s Eyes” oddly enough sounds like a rejected song off of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” with the sparse guitars and spacey, echoing vocals at the beginning of the track, but the track goes on two minutes too long. “C’est La Vie (say the casualties)” at first sounds like any other 80’s pop-hit, but then the second half of the song happens. The end of this track can only be described as a mix between polka and psychedelic music, and yes, it is as bad as it sounds.
But despite a few missteps, the album picks it up again for the last two tracks with the reggae-inspired instrumentation of “61 Cygni Ave” and the closer “News from the Sun (live bootleg),” which is just begging listening on some beach, preferably a beach closer to Mexico than Canada.
It also goes without saying that no review of this album would be complete without mentioning the epic duo-track that divides the album in two: “Slumlord” and “Slumlord’s Re-Lease.” Each of these tracks serves as a summary of their respective halves of the album. “Slumlord” has all of the catchy hooks and fast-paced synth instrumentation that is everywhere on the first half of the album while “Re-Lease” sets the tone for the second half with its sparse synths and tone-shifted vocals (or at least that’s what the second half sounds like until “C’est La Vie”; seriously, that song sticks out like a sore thumb).
All things considered, it is very easy to recommend this album. After 2011’s “Era Extraña,” it was obvious that Neon Indian’s chillwave label could only get it so far. So instead of switching genres completely to techno-pop which, “Era Extraña” seemed to prophesize with tracks such as “Polish Girl,” Alan Palomo dropped the “chill wave” shtick, kept the ’80s aesthetic and made a killer album with one hell of a groove.