No musician approaches the concept of time nonchalantly, because time is fucking scary. It’s the only element at play within the industry (and every other industry, for that matter) that follows its own agenda regardless of—and at times, in spite of—everyone else’s. It’s as capable of creating a career as it is of destroying another, and every musician afflicted takes it upon themselves to dictate exactly how much of a role it will play in the cultivation of their work. If the role is too small, musicians tend to develop a backbreaking naiveté, rendering their music petty. If the role is too large, musicians look neurotic and weathered, and the music is represented similarly. It’s a rickety bridge, man.
Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo has grown acutely aware of how time has become the uninvited ingredient in his music’s recipe, and he seems to understand even more clearly how dramatically horrible things can go if too much or too little is incorporated. That’s why VEGA INTL. Night School is such an outright success: It exposes both Palomo’s fear of time and his acceptance that it’s all in his head.
Night School is a marvel on nearly every level. It pushes limits where appropriate without ever convoluting the motive. Its story arch actually remains a story arch and not some senselessly direct route from Point A to Point B. It possesses huge amounts of heart, but never at the expense of entertainment. It’s moving, because it moves you to dance and to relate.
That’s a really rare thing within the framework of electronic music, but Palomo comes stocked with an arsenal of motivation that naturally directs the flow and trajectory of his work. In an interview with Central Track’s Pete Freedman, Palomo admits that much of Night School was constructed to reflect his admission that time moves a little faster as you get older. “Mostly [taking a four-year break between albums] feels like a long time because I’ve never taken this long to slowly chip away at something,” Palomo said.
As it turns out, a slow chip results in an altogether more cohesively structured album. One of the first things to notice about Night School is its rhythm, which is to say that it’s almost impossible to tell when one track ends and the next one begins.
That makes reviewing Night School particularly interesting, because rather than experiencing the album track-by-track, you digest it in clusters. Early release single “Slumlord”, for example, exists so much more robustly on Night School because it comes with a two-and-a-half-minute reprise, immediately followed by “Techno Clique”, the most four-on-the-floor track in Neon Indian’s catalog. “Annie”, Palomo’s first Night School pre-release, bounces a little lighter because of “Street Level”, a track that bangs despite every reason why it shouldn’t. A few weeks ago, Palomo dropped the heavily Prince-infused “The Glitzy Hive”, a heavy-hitting track made more dynamic by “Dear Skorpio Magazine”, the only song that really retains the signature DNA of a Neon Indian motif. And I mean that in a good way.
As touching moments, go, nothing comes close to “Baby’s Eyes”, a jam-worthy BPM drop about two-thirds of the way through the album that blissfully exposes Palomo’s beating human heart. “Never going home again / ‘Til they see the world as I see you,” Palomo declares with voracity and kindness like you’ve never heard before.
That’s probably the most incredible piece of the Night School puzzle: So much of it exposes various nooks and crawlspaces within Palomo’s psyche that have evaded his audience for years, despite how emotionally comprehensive we believed his prior two LPs to be. For being so acutely aware of how time affects the construct of his work, Palomo doesn’t seem convinced that it actually affects the work itself. Night School doesn’t go down like a third album. It goes down like a reimagined debut, because it introduces a newly carefree, naturally focused Neon Indian. And as third albums go, that’s just about the best mentality you can employ. A MINUS