By Robin Davies
Vega Intl. Night School is Neon Indian’s first release for 4 years. Their third studio album, it was almost the one that got away. On the final date of their tour in support of 2011’s Era Extraña, band leader Alan Palomo’s laptop was stolen at the end of a night of—to us his own words—“misadventures.” With it were two year’s worth of demo recordings lost. Despite this loss, Palomo has produced the best Neon Indian to date.
The first thing to strike you about this album is how polished some of the tracks sound. On previous outings, Neon Indian’s sound could best probably be compared to a VHS tape playing sounds taken from a Gameboy. This acid-washed psychedelia not only made the band stand out so dramatically from many other groups, but also gave their songs an enigmatic charm.
The first two singles from this album, ‘Annie’ and ‘Slumlord’, both sound a far cry from some of their earlier work. The former has a definite crisp popiness, whilst ‘Slumlord’ sounds—at times—like an 80s house track. This does not, however, mean the band has thrown what made them so recognisable to the wind. Many of the other songs maintain the unmistakable musical jaggedness for which Neon Indian are known, and even in the most refined of songs, brief interludes of distorted synths offer something of a return to the familiar—typified no better than by the breakdown in ‘The Glitzy Hive’, a passage you almost wish had been given it’s own song.
In Vega Intl. Palomo has made extensive use of samples from what sound like films, TV shows, and even ambient chatter. This all adds to an often busy sounding record, with songs running in to one another compounding what is a fluid effect, albeit one that can be a bit overwhelming. This perhaps gives rise to the chief criticism of the album—that there can be too much going on. In some songs the heavy use of different layers and bold sounds can render them hard to engage with. Make no mistake, the frenetic nature of this record can be very entertaining, but the best tracks are decidedly the ones where there is less competition for your attention.
Vega Intl. Night School is without a doubt Neon Indian’s best album. Long time fans may pine for the sound of albums past, but with this more polished direction the band can be assured of reaching their widest audience yet.
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