On VEGA INTL. Night School, his third album as Neon Indian, Monterrey-born artist Alan Palomo’s ambition sounds miles ahead of what we’ve heard from him on previous releases. Little remains from the chillwave days of Psychic Chasms and from the electro-shoegaze sounds found on Era Extraña, but enough for us to glimpse an evident connecting thread between each project. And that also includes his funk and disco beginnings, explored in previous outfits Ghosthustler and especially VEGA, something we sense is directly linked to the album title.
VEGA INTL. Night School seamlessly connects past decades and manages to successfully sound current and relevant. Here, Palomo let himself loose and didn’t hold back for a second. He did everything in his reach to replicate the excesses of recording sessions from the golden era of major labels but within budget, a philosophy that led him to record in a number of places, including a cruise ship. The result is Neon Indian’s most diverse and fun album so far, a sonically rich record full of unexpected turns from start to finish.
There’s an overall psychedelic approach to the album as a whole when it comes to sound. Guitars, drums, vocals, synths: every single channel on every track seems to be processed by effects, like flangers, phasers, and filters, giving the album a particularly cosmic quality. But as special as the sonic aspect of the album is, the money is actually on the music itself, especially the songwriting and disregard for genre conventions.
While making the album, Palomo kept in mind how the songs would sound at performances, and it shows. They’re fun, energetic and danceable; take lead single “Annie,” for instance – it’s a bright and infectious number that’s clearly influenced by reggae and cumbia, something you wouldn’t automatically associate with Neon Indian, and you can picture him rocking it live. There are a couple of short key changes that catch you by surprise and keep things interesting. “Annie” is followed by “Street Level,” which starts off like a Jai Paul funk track, but goes so much further, bringing the brass synths and a whole lot of sci-fi sounds. Get distracted for a second and you’ll swear this is a Prince song broadcasted from the future.
If the song “The Glitzy Hive” were a real place, we’d definitely want to party there. It showcases his love for disco music, with some classy French touches and an undeniable pop sensibility. Hands down, the centerpiece of the album is second single “Slumlord” and its reprise. He filters his Italo-disco influence masterfully for over seven and a half minutes, providing one memorable melodic line after the other. We dare you to listen to it and not sing the main synth hook over and over afterwards.
In a recent interview with The Fader, Palomo said he wanted the album to sound like a singles collection for a band that doesn’t exist. If that’s the case, then “Techno Clique” is that band’s techno experiment, “C’est La Vie (Say the Casualties!)” is from when they flirted with Michael Jackson and Ray Parker, Jr. in the 80s, and “Baby’s Eyes” comes from that time they got totally stuck with Pink Floyd. To have all of these on the same album without losing one bit of consistency is a mark of true talent. VEGA INTL. Night School is Alan Palomo at his strongest in terms of production, songwriting, vocal confidence, and arrangements. The four-year wait paid off – big time.