Neon Indian (aka Alan Palomo) is frequently pegged as an artist who pedals Instagram-filtered images of the 80s to a generation of listeners who weren’t even born in the infamous decade of cocaine, capitalism and conservatism. For his third LP, Palomo has turned his attention to a more personal genre of nostalgia: the double title for this LP derives from a previous monkier: VEGA.
Given it draws on Palomo’s earlier dance-oriented project and was written on a cruise ship (with assistance from Palomo’s brother, who was playing bass in the house-band at the time), it's a world away from Palomo’s recent work with the Flaming Lips, but that’s not to say this LP has any of the geriatric charm of a Caribbean cruise either. Finished at DFA’s Plantain Studios in New York, the record is more reminiscent of a drunken night-time drive through the Lower East Side: neon lights, fluorescent colours and noise.
Skipping down the track list of VEGA INTL Night School is to jump from party to party, scene to scene, on a Saturday night. House, disco, indie-pop - it’s all here. It sketches the city at night. The second half of the title - “night school” - alludes to Palomo’s own personal thesis about human behaviour. As he sees it, we all get a little bit more honest at night, a bit freer. That’s where we learn about people.
Stylistically varied as it may be, VEGA INTL Night School sets side the tripped-out psychedelia of Psychic Chasms in favour of familiar structures and instant listener-appeal. Palomo can craft an indie-pop song - as Era Extraña’s “Polish Girl” goes to show - and here again he makes unashamed used of this talent. “Annie” is a slice of immediately lovable electro-pop; with its Peter Gabriel-esque synth, an irresistible baseline and a sing-along chorus, it’s difficult not to be charmed.
“Street Level” provides a change of pace; a glowing, disorientating portrait of urban disaffection about just “trying to survive the night”, it feels like taking a cigarette break at a party and realizing that, maybe, you’re bored, because you’ve “seen it all before”.
There’s very little pre-packaged misery on this LP, but there are a huge amount of pastel-coloured throwbacks. “Dear Skorpio Magazine” is a Hall and Oates track. Okay, on a literal level, that’s a lie - but it’s so uncannily close to that mustachioed vibe that it is easier to think of it more as a cover than as an homage.
“Slumlord” begins in much the same vein - soft synths which then morph into an Italo-disco cut that could easily slide into your record collection alongside the likes of Holy Ghost!. “Slumlord’s Re-release”, the following number, takes the song and moves into a darker direction - pushing it toward the territory of French house.
“Techno Clique” seizes on this shift. Clap drum - check. Ethereal vocals - check. Pumping baseline - check. This is house. But, as you might expect, there is no minimalist purity to be hand here. It's a chaotic and joyous mess. Palomo never loses sight of his goal to make every moment of the album accessible and engaging.
From time to time, VEGA INTL Night School offers moments of sheer camp. “C’est La Vie (Say The Casualties)” is definitely one of them; with its galloping bassline, dramatic shifts in mood and tongue-in-cheek lyrics - “take it easy, fella” - it’s a deliciously self-aware showcase of irreverent electro. Similarly, “The Glitzy Hive” offers a dizzying array of synth and kick drum. The main message? “She just wants to party”
By the tail end of the album, we have firmly entered an 80s imitation game. Is it pastiche? Is it re-appropriation? It’s hard to tell at times. “Cygni Ave” channels a late-80s reggae vibe - like The Police armed with a Moog. “News From The Sun”, the LP's closer, sounds like the kind of lost classic that everyone wanted to see on Prince’s last record.
As with every Neon Indian album, VEGA INTL Night School can feel chaotic, effusive, even overwhelming at times. But, much like the proverbial “bright lights” of the city which provide the inspiration for this LP, it's dazzling, too.