Monday, December 7, 2015

Wiped Out! | The Neighbourhood

Imagine this: you're walking alone down a palm tree-lined street on a warm summer evening. The empty beach is on your right, a line of dingy dives on your left. The murky waves are catching the last amber glimmers of the sunset while most of the black sky is illuminated by only flickering neon marquees. There's a sense of serenity. Over your ears rests a pair of headphones, playing the soundtrack to this whole scene: Wiped Out!, the newest album from American alternative group the Neighbourhood.

The band is not apple of the critics' eyes, billed off as the most insignificant, manufactured player in the viral competitors' ring. In such a saturated area of the music market, it's easy to see how the band has been thrown in this light by comparison to their contemporaries (awkward interviews, embarrassing faux-punk attitudes without the music to match, lack of distinctive lyrical content), but these musicians do have an undeniable knack for creating an atmosphere. On their 2013 debut I Love You., it was a monochrome Emile Haynie soundscape sparked by "Sweater Weather." This time around, it's the dusky palm trees affair glossed with a certain ambiance of leather-scented *cool* and complemented by spirals of endless instrumental breaks (check the title track, "Baby Come Home/Valentine"). While different from two years ago, the band still requires an acquired taste.

After "A Moment of Silence" (literally 30 seconds of silence; apparently very hipster), most of the album's ten other tracks play out in a relentless haze -- which would be a bigger problem if that haze weren't as hypnotic as it is. Involved listeners get trapped in the band's atmosphere for 45 minutes without a care of what each four minute snippet of the experience is called. Sure, the appreciation for the consistent *cool* style and the echoed vocals of lead singer Jesse Rutherford is a prerequisite for grading this album anything higher than 50 percent; it could easily be grating without a prior liking for the band (because perhaps the only time that they break the album's formula is on closing track "R.I.P. 2 My Youth" and maybe "Greetings from California"). But with that requirement met, listeners should be reciting every word to "Daddy Issues," "Cry Baby," and "Single" along with the best of them soon enough.

The members of the Neighbourhood could have just as easily dismissed themselves as a fly-by-night indie sensation à la Foster the People or Walk the Moon, but they came back with another crowd-pleasing set that has already been cast away by critics. Again, polarizing, they are; relatively indistinct, their lyrics and Rutherford's voice are; cringe-worthy, their off-stage personalities are. But when digested as a whole, this album is an oasis that sticks to listeners and refuses to release them from its grip prematurely. Maybe I'm a sucker for some ambiance, or for some cliché hipster-chic production, or for some heavy reverberation, but I wouldn't mind letting this album run its course many times through while I work, hoping that it could mentally transport me to that scenic boulevard by the beach, even if just for under an hour.

Wiped Out! is available now under Columbia Records.

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