It’s been four long years since Neon Indian’s last release, Era Extraña, Alan Palomo’s hazy chillwave masterpiece that gave us the inimitable “Polish Girl.” Faced with topping what many considered an instant classic is hard enough, but when you include the quiet fall into obscurity of many chillwave pioneers (musicians who sounded like they were recording tributes to the electronic ‘80s in their bedrooms), Palomo certainly had a mountain to climb with VEGA INTL: Night School, his latest — and arguably greatest — record.
VEGA shows a definite spirit of advancement and improvement over Era Extraña, and Palomo demonstrates evidence of his burgeoning creative confidence, delivering a hip-wiggling, softly seductive record full of pop licks and Latin American-influenced disco grooves.
In many ways, VEGA is a brash, relentlessly catchy album, with Palomo’s intelligent and fun lyrics shadowed by the quirky electronic instrumentation. It’s far less insular a record than most chillwave albums, which may have put off listeners of Neon Indian’s previous work.
That seems to be the running theme for ‘80s-influenced albums released this year, considering that the same criticism could be levelled at Tame Impala for their new album, Currents, which was a move away from the traditional psych-rock of their previous works. However, while Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala stepped back to a more relaxed sound, Palomo’s moving forward from a more mellow style to a more vibrant exuberance. The two albums are on the same page and would definitely dovetail well together.
VEGA’s bass is laid on thick, and its simple yet powerful drums do a good job keeping things ticking over smoothly while electronic flourishes add the cherry on top. Meanwhile, Palomo’s falsetto delivery of intelligently crafted lyrics ensures that the record stays away from the mind-numbing, unchallenging style of music that over-populates the electronic scene, which is often characterized by a mix of meaningless lyrics and a loud, emotionless beat.
Sometimes the quieter moments of a track are its most poignant. Palomo understands this, using footsteps, muttering, and even distant sirens on “61 Cygni Ave,” and dropping the volume about midway through “Slumlord” and “Annie.” Vega is an emotional roller coaster, and the presence of those quiet, low moments simply highlights how powerful and mesmeric its standout moments can be. The overwhelmingly danceable “Annie” is followed up by the more introspective “Street Level.” The ‘80s electro-pop ballad, “Baby’s Eyes,” a sprawling six-minute track, is followed up by two more explosive tracks: “C’est La Vie” and “61 Cygni Ave.” The wonderful “C’est La Vie” is a contender for best track on VEGA alongside “Annie,” and personal favourite, “The Glitzy Hive”.
VEGA is a fantastic release and a wonderful achievement in Neon Indian’s musical evolution, but it’s not perfect. Palomo’s singing isn’t the best, nor is his storytelling capability, and the flamenco-stylings may force the album into a niche. If you like going out at night and dancing, but don’t like the loud, overwhelmingly repetitive electronic music that dominates the airwaves, take VEGA INTL: Night School. You won’t regret it.