Review: Neon Indian- Vega Intl. Night School

It’s a well accepted fact that the dawn of the internet age has changed the music industry beyond all recognition. Downloads, uploads, Soundcloud, Facebook: all of them have had a role in changing the way we interact with our music. Many cite the date of April 28th 2003, when the iTunes Store was launched, as a starting point for this revolution, but its effects were still hitting home in 2009, when a blogger going by the name of “Carles” purportedly used the term “Chillwave” to describe a specific brand of retro-oriented, downtempo, low-fi electro-pop music. Much to the chagrin of the established music critics, not to mention the bands labelled as such, the term stuck, as unwanted things often do on the internet.

For years, music genres had been forged by a select group of pioneers in the legendary atmosphere of a few dingy clubs, just as Nirvana helped create Seattle grunge. In this new age however, a nobody on the internet could loosely group a few current acts with a term he made up, and it suddenly became gospel. Back then, Alan Palomo, going by the name of Neon Indian, was Chillwave’s reluctant leader. Era Extraña, his 2011 second album, may have delved into the psychedelic and abstract, but it still couldn’t shake off that try hard image, the sense that he took his slightly silly music too seriously. It may have taken four years and countless takes, but Palomo has finally come up with an answer to his critics.

Vega Intl. Night School both embraces Palomo’s style and distils it to its essentials. The tempo is upped, the samples made more frequent, the pop melodies simplified. There’s still a fair bit of that summer quality to the music here, notably in the swaggering reggae grooves that steer “Annie” and “61 Cygni Av”, but whereas previously Palomo had a tendency to pad things out with psychedelic electronic stylings somewhat reminiscent of M83, here he tends towards the clever, carefree inventiveness previously embodied so successfully by his Australian cousins the Avalanches and Cut Copy. The influence of the former is especially evident in playful interludes like “Bozo”, which interweaves a dazzling array of house beats, retro synths and sampled voices, before abruptly cutting out. Refreshingly, none of the album’s 51 minute run time overstays its welcome.

This is not to say that Palomo doesn’t occasionally let things work themselves out slowly. Fundamentally, as its name would suggest, Night School is an album that plays out on and around the dancefloor, and as such appreciates the slow burn as much as the sharp interjection. Four to the floor beats underpin the albums centrepiece “Slumlord”, which is driven firstly by a disco style bass line, before being replaced by the keyboard motifs of “Slumlord Re-Release”, which impressively juxtaposes foreboding piano chords, snippets of crowds chanting, and a distinctly tropical lead synth that wouldn’t be out of place on a Kygo single. Whereas the latter’s updated interpretation of lo-fi dance is a little bittersweet however, Night School only grows on you, leaving you giddy, pensive, and certainly wanting more.