For the first time since his 2009 debut Psychic Chasms crystalized a new microgenre of home-brewed dance music, Alan Palomo has married together his alter egos. While he once used the name VEGA to emit flashes of pop, house, and disco too lucid to be grouped under his dreamy main gig, Neon Indian, he’s now fused the party and the afterparty into the same venue. VEGA INTL. Night School, his third full-length release as Neon Indian, keeps both projects’ ambitions in its sights, carving away some of the residual fuzz from 2011’s Era Extraña for a bright, wild ride of an LP.
Palomo has likened his songwriting to filmmaking, and his remark that Night School is his “screwball comedy” more or less sums up the tone of the work. Neon Indian always had a vivid sense of humor, but some of the juxtapositions on the record seem engineered at the nuclear level for sparking laughs. Loose, messy bass synths drip all over these songs; certain keystrokes drive a mix of fart noise and animal whine; down-pitched vocals back up the leads like a cartoon sidekick; and the fog of good weed creeps into every seam. Palomo sings about walking around with a “head full of pesticides,” but I don’t think he’s killing any roaches in there.
Night School is a love song to the after-hours, and Palomo stays nimble enough to throw the word “party” around like confetti, even to refer to a potential lover as “little girl” without getting creepy or corny. “The Glitzy Hive” keeps his voice murky enough in the mix to soften those cliches, though it runs long for a fairly straight-laced neo-disco bobber. Early single “Annie”, meanwhile, folds new age pan flutes into a reggae throb, as Palomo sings into the answering machine of a girl who might have been abducted in a Michael Jackson song some three decades back.
He digs deeper on the album’s most fluid movement, a water-slide of tracks that unabashedly has its hooks in ‘70s-era Giorgio Moroder and his work with Donna Summer. The sequence of “Slumlord” into “Slumlord’s Re-lease” and “Techno Clique” proves to be Night School’s centerpiece and the most concrete realization yet of Neon Indian as pure electronic music. The analog synths loom high, the bass perforates the 4/4 stomp, and Palomo’s vocals harmonize with themselves through the chorus. “It goes on and on and on and on,” he sings, and it does — the track’s impulses carry through to the end of the Matthew Dear homage “Techno Clique”, when the disco embers cool and things get loose and sticky again for the album’s final act.
Palomo has managed to group everything that catches his eye under one disco ball-laden roof, but Night School rarely feels overstuffed. It stays playful and casual, and its stakes often feel low as a result. Neon Indian won’t set out to shock you or to shift the feel-good tone that caught so many ears in the first place, but Palomo will happily open his sound to encompass as many sources as he can without collapsing in the middle from the reach. It’s the party of the year, and everyone under the sun is invited.
Essential Tracks: “Annie”, “Slumlord”, and “Techno Clique”