Review of Vega Intl. Night School Album by Neon Indian

Hipsters may curdle at the insinuation, but one of the most attractive qualities about the briefly prescient Chillwave movement was the thin line it trod between pastiching the superficiality of the 80s musically and on the other hand revering it: the ambiguity certainly helped where real substance was often lacking.

Neon Indian Vega Intl. Night School Album

Mexican-born solo artist in the studio and group leader whilst on tour, Alan Palomo (Aka Neon Indian) was at the vanguard of its late 00s pomp along with the likes of Toro Y Moi and Washed Out and arguably recorded one of its definitive albums in 2011's 'Era Extrana'. Since then, electronic music has had a renaissance in the underground but succumbed to the blandishments of EDM in the mainstream: producers with more swag like Diplo have given it a brash, beat-fixated veneer with which the meek, romanticised phrases of Chillwave could never compete.

Palomo's alter ego Vega is, as luck would have it, that of a producer of more club orientated music and, after an incident in which the original demos for this his third album were lost when a laptop was stolen from him whilst in a drunken stupor, the re-orientated material now emerges with him no longer "Splitting hairs" - as he puts it - between the two identities.

This coming together means almost inevitably that some, if not most, of 'Era Extrana''s cosmic excesses have been abandoned for orthodoxy, albeit one still firmly rooted in mid-80s hubris. Few 'wavers will, for instance, dig a song as overt as 'Annie', with its reggae-lite guitar chop, falsetto chorus and Euro-disco synths rendering this Neon Indian as accessible as free town centre parking. If you can get past great leap forward/backward (delete as appropriate) however - and the fact that brief opener 'Hit Parade' lifts a big chunk of New Order's 'World In Motion' - there's some retro delights to be gotten down to. Occasionally, listeners will need to be patient: the fussy, cluttered opening to 'Street Level' doesn't hold much promise, but when the actual song starts, it's as bonkers as period Hall & Oates - and just as good.

So far, so Guilty Pleasures/Skool Disco. Accusations of total conformity would be wide of the mark though, as a darker underbelly exists, illustrated by the sparse, late night tensions of 'Baby's Eyes' and the part 8-bit, part playground chant weirdness of 'C'est La Vie (Say The Casualties)'. Both of these, along with the truncated filler of 'Bozo' would seem to indicate that the artist at work is in some kind of creative flux: either that, or the horror movie script Palomo wrote in between records is animating itself subconsciously within his production.  

There is, perhaps, a less sinister explanation than that. 'VEGA Intl. Night School' was completed, of all places, on a cruise liner, and the sense of unreality and hedonism for hedonism's sake which permeates modern life on the ocean wave probably informs its more showbiz moments. This established, it's under the mirrorball for the kissable funk of 'The Glitzy Hive', a twerk with the First Mate during the intricate sophisti-pop of 'Slumlord' whilst 'Techno Clique' is an intense, late night groove that will have you up way after your bedtime.

Given its background, it should come as no surprise that this is an album that proves you can please all of the people some of the time. He's no Jekyll or Hyde, but Alan Palomo carries off having a split personality with a pleasing amount of alacrity.


Andy Peterson

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