Virtually everything on VEGA INTL. sounds more enhanced.
Chillwave as a descriptor may have started as a joke, but Neon Indian, one of the acts most associated with that genre, has risen to become a serious musical presence. Reaching past chillwave’s dreamier pace and often wistful trappings, Alan Palomo (the driving creative force behind the project) has unleashed a forward-facing record, even if it taps into his onetime VEGA moniker and is still irrepressibly ‘80s in its influences. Nevertheless, VEGA INTL. Night School takes Palomo’s once lo-fi sound out of the summery backyard, spiffs it up and thrusts it into shimmering, late night city streets.
Four years on from Neon Indian’s most recent album, Era Extraña—which began to defy the chillwave label and polished the homemade production of his incredibly popular Psychic Charms debut—the new record is sleeker still, slipping along with some clear influences by Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, but not constrained by them. This is music to be bumped in the neon glow of nightlife, not your lazy backyard BBQ. Palomo created this record with exactly that in mind, explaining that “most of what I’ve learned about human nature in my twenties has happened after dark. People are just kind of more honest then. More deliberate.”
Virtually everything on VEGA INTL. sounds more enhanced, and four years in the making, it’s hard not to call it more deliberate as well. Reportedly recorded in numerous locales, including aboard a cruise ship, the new record possesses an urbane sensibility and a flashy delivery. Guitar riffs are chunkier (with the closing moments of single “Annie” even going full-on funk), synths more densely layered, with more propulsive motion through the record than on those prior. It’s as though, by reveling in an after-dark buzz, Neon Indian is more open to indulging excesses, the pervasive ‘80s sound more cocksure and bawdy.
“Slumlord” embraces the more dance-oriented approach that Palomo once purveyed under his now-retired VEGA moniker. A retro synth-driven intro picks up momentum before launching into churning, motorik-tinged beat that glistens with late night club sweat. The track segues into “Slumlord Re-Lease,” a two-and-a-half minute protracted instrumental outro with echoing drums and ‘80s “oh-oh-OH-oh-oh”-ing that feels like a necessary extension of its prior track, if only to release the pent up energy. Shifting immediately into “Techno Clique,” and Palomo’s reverb-laden repeating of “Just you and I,” a tubular synth line and laser lashes cut through the dancefloor haze. Meanwhile, Palomo ramps up the breathy vocals on the smoky, slowed-down groove of “Baby’s Eyes.”
And that’s all packed into the back half of this sprawling 14-track release. The front end still retains some of the laid back, chillwave flow, even if more kinetic. “Annie” makes for a strong lead single, an earworm chorus over a jubilant bounce and some warbly guitar hook that comes within a hair of conjuring a dubbed-out reggae backing. “Smut!” offers a loping beat and even some falsetto vocals that act as the calm before an impending storm.
Four years is a long time to wait between releases, but Neon Indian’s third album doesn’t disappoint. By ramping up the funkier influences from the ‘80s, and not shying away from going balls-out dance track in the album’s tail end, VEGA INTL. Night School can teach a thing or two to Neon Indian’s chillwave brethren. Palomo once planned to resurrect his VEGA project, but barring that, merging those dance-oriented ideas with Neon Indian just might be a stronger approach than either project was on its own.