Neon Indian - VEGA INTL. Night School

VEGA INTL. Night School, Neon Indian
Transgressive / Mom & Pop, USA
Rating: 85
by Sam Rodgers

The middle of VEGA INTL. Night School, the seven and a half minutes of "Slumlord" and "Slumlord's Re-lease", is transportive. Whether taking you to the generic 80s tubular-steel chairs of a cruise ship's dining room, the newly installed neon at a foreign casino, or flashbacks to those nights out where you reach flow and things got better, if not a little steamy. The myri  ad of sonic confection is humid, tropical, and yet metallic and cold. There's a fun darkness underpinning Neon Indian's latest LP, and it's the Mexican-born, Texas-native's best. This is one of those albums where you really could judge the interior on its cover: a primed rock star, but instead of guitars and a band, he has synths and a speaker in an underground venue. This self-mocking alternative-section theme is furthered by the fact you're purchasing the 'Japanese extended version' of the album without being a super-fan (the final track is called 'News From The Sun [Live Bootleg]').

Alan Palomo demands you take the ride with him - he fills the spaces between songs with sound realia so as to not lose your attention. You're now just switching radio stations on a planet where Neon Indian has taken over the airwaves. This could be a risky move, but it pays off here. VEGA INTL. Night School is a world unto itself. It's very self-contained and self-aware. On track "Smut!", when the lyric "she takes me to night school" occurs, a bloodshot-eyed voice comments: "hey, that's the name of the record!"

Lead single, "Annie", is the bridge between the innocent sounds of 2011's "Polish Girl" and the sweaty bosom of the "night schools" mentioned on this record. The track bounces but it's the lament of a lover being ignored by the title's antagonist. In this way, VEGA INTL. Night School plays like Blondie or Jamiroquai level levity in face of despairing lyrics, but unlike the latter band's earnest strut, Palomo is meta-peacocking. Listen to the grind of "Street Level", Palomo sings: "Cause we all know how to do the side walk" while recounting a night keeping confidence while tripping. He's anthropological in his storytelling: the "honesty of the night" - as he's said about the inspiration for the album - is a curio of the culture we have, not to be glorified nor scorned, but rather appreciated for what it is. This makes the album fun and, while not quite sober, grounded in a this-is-what-I-did-in-my-20s way. On album highlight, and hopefully future single, "Dear Skorpio Magazine", the younger version of Palomo confesses to the 80s porn mag editorial: "Every time I see her / Walking down the street / I'm wondering who she's going to meet / Often from a distance / always so discreet / keeping prowler's pace / through the dirty sneaker squeak".

For the impatient, VEGA INTL. Night School could be seen as one of those solid and soon-to-be ubiquitous dance albums akin to Hercules & Love Affair's debut for this decade. Throw in the layering of new Panda Bear and the tropicana of El Guincho and you can understand the sonic language of Neon Indian. However, where VEGA INTL. Night School emulates the influences (think Prince and even Phil Collins on 'Baby's Eyes'), it never loses focus on its own aesthetic. This is one of those albums where you're not waiting to see what comes next, but know you'll revisit it for some time to come.