Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Neighbourhood | The Neighbourhood

A neighborhood as a common noun and The Neighbourhood as a proper one are quite different things. A neighborhood – ideally, at least – is made of cohesively styled homes and happy families to fill them all. The Neighbourhood, meanwhile, aren’t quite sure what they are – even three albums and multiple extended plays into a career – and they aren’t exactly happy about much of anything, either.

Hailing from California but flaunting the British English variant of “neighborhood” in their namesake, the five-piece band have always stressed aesthetics over substance in their greyscale world. As they came to age in an era of dark, oversaturated pop, they brandished a debut album produced in full by Emile Haynie, whose lauded production work for the likes of Lana Del Rey and FKA twigs helped define the first half of this decade in music. I Love You. was prefabricated for perfection at the time, but critics pried out its Haynie facade and stomped across the few remnants of its contents.

In lyrical or cultural significance, conditions didn’t improve on the band’s sophomore record, Wiped Out!, or frontman Jesse Rutherford’s breakout session with pop music, somewhat irritatingly titled &. But damn, even if the band lack a definite sound and meaningful lyrics, it’s hard to refute that the muffled faux-rock soundscapes on Wiped Out! are undeniably cool. Unsurprisingly, professional critics have a hard time admitting that, perhaps because they too often try to paint The Neighbourhood as a bad hip-hop act rather than an average pop-rock one; in fact, they have been so turned off that the band’s third album – a self-titled one – seems to have been blacklisted from most major publications altogether.

Given the band’s current circumstances, this feels like an odd eponymous album. It’s hodge-podged together with songs – though not even some of the best ones – from two extended plays that were released quietly over the past few months, with new tracks tacked between the preexisting framework. Moreover, the guys have tweaked their sonic direction yet again, as Rutherford’s visit to the pop world seems to have wrenched in dance beats on this record's best tracks – no matter how paranoid or lonely their lyrics become. And even as odd as it seems, it all still feels somewhat appropriate for an ever-enigmatic band like The Neighbourhood.

Having always been a monochrome band, The Neighbourhood don't jump into technicolor on a whim: their sonic palette is still dark and condensed, and Rutherford's delivery is just as disinterested as ever. But during the front half of this album, a flashing strobe light backlights them to reveal their swaying silhouettes. The distorted guitar and keys in the underbelly and the dancing synths in the midriff of “Softcore” keep the track alive below Rutherford's slippery vocals; on "Scary Love," a tickled little synthesizer and persistent guitar line titillate listeners, while Rutherford's slurs immediately cool the fire the track's instrumental sets.

But The Neighbourhood’s depressive centerfold, “Blue” and the mopey “Sadderdaze,” pulls the emergency break on its momentum, dulling the front-loaded record back to two-stepping sadcore. The back end of the record echoes The Neighbourhood that once was – it’s not gleaming or particularly impressive, but it’s somewhat familiar. Ironically, in that sense, the album's least successful half as interesting music is its most successful half as the band's eponymous record, which leads me to believe that perhaps it's best that The Neighbourhood still haven't found their footing – because with each stab, they get a bit closer to redeeming a reputation they never really had to begin with.

The Neighbourhood is available now under Columbia Records.

No comments

Post a Comment

© Aural Fixation