This Neon Indian article was written by Alistair Ryder, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson
Neon Indian shouldn’t be built to last; Alan Polomo’s first two albums under the moniker (2009’s ‘Psychic Chasms’ and 2011’s ‘Era Extrana’) rode by as part of the long forgotten chillwave scene, one of those long forgotten sub-genres that seem to exist solely as the flavour of the month on the blogosphere before disappearing altogether. A quick glance at the cover art for ‘VEGA INTL. NIGHT SCHOOL’ suggests the music he has composed for the new album has jumped ship for the 80’s inspired synth wave genre; another niche online movement whose musical taste can be summarised as cheesiness, from the decade style forgot reimagined in the style of the Drive soundtrack. Thankfully, the tackiness is exclusively limited to the front cover; it is the first Neon Indian release that transcends the genre it will be associated with to emerge as a crowd-pleasing pop album in its own right.
If chill wave was about electronic music at its most minimalist, then ‘VEGA INTL. NIGHT SCHOOL’ is maximalism writ-large. Of course, Polomo’s music always had an uneasy relationship with whichever genre it was being associated with. The lo-fi production value of his debut album as Neon Indian has all but ensured the chill wave tag was an albatross around his neck, even if he subsequently proved to be a confident electronic music producer and performer in the making. Before making music under the Neon Indian title, Polomo was a solo artist named Vega; he has repeatedly promised another solo album under this title and this new album seems like that come to fruition. It is the sort of album an artist makes as they try to prove their worth as a pop star- its 80’s influence means cult success is what awaits. But it is hard to imagine anybody who encounters the day-glo playfulness of the album and not falling for it.
Even to the most casual of listeners, it is hard to shake the obvious similarities between ‘VEGA INTL.’ and Daft Punk’s 2001 ‘Discovery’ LP. Although the French duo had a larger budget to realise their nerdy anime concept to tie in with the album, Polomo is clearly showing influence from nerd culture of year’s past- a cursory glance at the album cover all but clarifies this. He was born at the end of the decade that acts as the biggest influence here, yet throughout it contains references to obscure pop-culture from that decade; he manages to turn defunct Italian top-shelf magazine Skorpio into the basis for a sweet pop song (‘Dear Scorpio Magazine’). Like most millennials who encounter the 80’s, his knowledge of the decade’s pop culture seems to have been gleamed through a diet of obscure Tumblr blogs.
However, the parallels between ‘VEGA INTL.’ and ‘Discovery’ aren’t solely based on the loose concepts that attempt to envelop them. Both albums use their creator’s skills for production in order to create music that is accessible to a mass audience; although Polomo’s vague lyrics and love of Italian pornography may act as barriers to any major success with this record. Lead singles ‘Annie’ and ‘Slumlord’ are two of the catchiest tracks you are likely to hear this year, hook-laden pop hits that double as a plea for mainstream accessibility- one that is never likely to fruition.
Great pop songs feel timeless, whereas all the tracks on here feel like an evocation of a musical era that has long gone. That isn’t to say there aren’t great pop songs here, but with the exception of the Disclosure-soundalike ‘Techno Clique’, they all feel thrillingly alien to the modern era, as likely to be loved for novelty value as they are otherwise, much like the reappropriation of the 80’s by the Tumblr generation. It is an album where the strangeness doesn’t sink until repeat listens, as you realise that as anthemic as they are, no crossover success is likely for songs that sound like Ariel Pink gone glam-rock (‘C’est La Vie (Say the Casualties)’) or Tears for Fears going fully electronic (‘News from the Sun’).
Listeners will very likely fall for the intoxicating adventurousness of the tracks here, but whether it ensures longevity for Neon Indian or just a temporary flirtation with popularity remains to be seen. Although it may not stand the test of time, ‘VEGA INTL.’ is one of the most thrillingly strange pop albums this year.
‘VEGA INTL NIGHT SCHOOL’ is out now on Static Tongues