The Neighbourhood | Wiped Out! (Columbia)

cd neighbourhoodLead single “R.I.P. 2 My Youth” is a mid-tempo tour-de-force of melody and melancholy, capturing the band and this album in a nutshell.

 

 

 

The 21st century started off with many proclaiming the death of rock ‘n’ roll, and circa 2000–2001, it largely fell on New York bands to bring it back. What came of the Strokes-spearheaded revival was a great deal of looking to the past to salvage the present. Meanwhile, music kept evolving, and many of the supposed saviors would be left by the wayside as styles and tastes changed with the trends.

Not many people would have predicted that popular music would eventually start to bend to the influence of ’80s synth and pop rock. When it happened, the influence of the indie rock and alternative music of the following decade became fair game. As a result, we now have a mainstream music landscape that serves as a bridge from the early- to mid-’80s and the early- to mid-’90s. So, if you want to imagine what music could have sounded like if hair metal, soft rock, grunge, and g-funk hadn’t dominated all the other genres that were evolving, you don’t have to look far to find some ear candy. The Neighbourhood is one of the signature bands of this movement, and for an act that has embraced monochromatic iconography, their second full-length album begs to be contrasted with their first.

Wiped Out!, the follow-up to I Love You, moves from the grayscale palette of its predecessor and adds in a variety of hues, but only as tints. The synthesizers and programming stand out more, and give Wiped Out! an urbane edge that washes over you, much like the way the production of Channel Orange by Frank Ocean did. The Neighborhood makes sure to inject the vitality of the band dynamic throughout, mixing in live elements with the digital parts. Traditional band arrangements, spare acoustic interludes, and breaks in the programmed patterns let you know there is a hand keeping time, rather than an algorithm.

There are moments during which Wiped Out! embraces the fullness of the band’s sound and its California cool vibe, as in the lead track “Prey,” which could be mistaken for a Local Natives tune—in a good way. Its reverb-drenched staccato guitars and vocal harmonies have a definite surf vibe. There are dissonant guitar tones lurking, undercutting the sunny melody. The song creates an eeriness that continues in “Cry Baby,” which introduces the first dramatic stylistic shift, a Neighbourhood trademark. The bass-heavy, effect-drenched groove occupies multiple time streams, sounding like a gem from the ’80s, or maybe a ’90s alternative opus. Then the sound drops back to vocalist Jesse Rutherford and a ukelele and you’re on the beach—and it could be the any beach, anywhere in the last 70 years.

This effortless intra-track production and arrangement shifting is a constant throughout Wiped Out!. Cohesion emerges amid the gestalt, and it’s easy to get lost in the aural maze. Even the most straightforward songs, such as “The Beach” and “Daddy Issues,” cascade with sonic ornamentation. Thankfully, the elements are used judiciously. Seldom does a song do the same thing for more than a verse without introduction an exciting variation on a rhythm or melody. Embellishments of this sort are usually masking some intrinsic flaw in the songwriting. If there is a flaw to be found, it’s that, as expected, these are not happy-go-lucky pop songs, but they appeal to you as if they were. It’s a magical talent, one that makes songs like “Yesterday” and “Imagine” indelible pop standards. The Neighborhood may not have written a song with a measure of the impact of those two juggernauts, but you get the feeling they are striving to craft their own legend, and in doing so, they evoke the aspirations of the greats that preceded them in their craft.

The use of ambient sound brings the seashore to life, and yet they find a way to color the sounds and give the impression of an overcast sky. At times I couldn’t help but envision the Who’s Quadrophenia. The Neighbourhood owns the atmosphere and turn it on its head by taking the most serene, yet desolate moments and shaking them up like a snow globe. Mid-album, the band hits its stride and maximizes it. “Greetings from California” is a theme in the making, begging for a remix featuring Kendrick Lamar, for starters. It takes an impressive album up to that point and puts it over the top, going from good to outstanding, the climatic set piece of a post-modern noir. The sinister air that drives the groove of “Ferrari” feels like the foreboding aftermath, when you know there’s villainy yet to play out. Twenty years ago, songs like “Queer” and “Closer” consummated the relationship between the gothic and pop worlds that flirted during the ’80s, and “Ferrari” bears a familial resemblance. The toy piano notes that chime to open “Single” sound like ice breaking, but what plays out is far more than simple balladeering: Every song has a journey on Wiped Out!, and that journey ends where it began. Lead single “R.I.P. 2 My Youth, a mid-tempo tour-de-force of melody and melancholy, captures the band and this album in a nutshell.

The Neighborhood is blending some of the best styles coming out of California, especially the indie-leaning hip-hop with a shoegaze-like quality that has infiltrated the pop world. The Canadian variant of the aforementioned sound has made Drake and The Weeknd marquee names. Then there’s the indie scene, with artists like Local Natives and Moses Sumney making sophisticated music that appeals to traditional folk-pop songwriting, with production sensibilities and modern tones all at once.

The Neighborhood seems to embrace all that and come out the other side. What we have here is music that is haunted, yet accessible. The duality of life and death, loving and mourning comes into focus on Wiped Out!, as does the universality of it all. This is what pop music in the postmodern era can be at its best, when the band means more than the brand. The Neighborhood has proven yet again that gradation allows for a wealth of creative expression with limited hues. A | Willie Edward Smith

RIYL: Justin Timberlake, Frank Ocean, Eurythmics, Drake, Jessie Ware, Jhene Aiko

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