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.