Somewhere over the course of a wild night out in New York, Neon Indian frontman Alan Palomo drunkenly passed out, and awoke on the side of a street to find his laptop stolen, wiping out all his work – and cutting him loose from the constraints of his trademark sound. The incident seems to have shaped VEGA INTL. Night School, a pulsating journey through the seedy underbelly of a city under dark. It’s not an album Neon Indian could have made three years ago. In fact, it barely feels like a Neon Indian album at all.
Around the turn of the decade, the chillwave bubble burst. While much of the scene was quick to adapt, none reinvented themselves quite like Neon Indian has here. On VEGA INTL., Palomo flirts with various genres, but the album never feels scattered. Lead single ‘Annie’ pours a bouncy reggae rhythm over a tale of a lost girl, and if it sounds like it was recorded on a cruise liner, that’s because it probably was – much of the album was created in a makeshift studio aboard the ‘Carnival Sensation’, a ship Palomo’s brother was working aboard. The sun-soaked single is the last glimpse of daylight before the neon glow of the city engulfs; ‘Street Level’ follows, and is an apt precursor to the rest of the album. Scuzzy, grimy, and enticing, the track finds Palomo singing about “red lights like blood clots” and “pavement shores” over gluey synths. Elsewhere, he goes for broke on ‘C’est la Vie (Say the Casualties)’, a syrupy ditty that treads the line between sweet and sickly.
Palomo unreservedly reinvents himself on VEGA INTL. Night School, and crafts his greatest work thus far. For an album with so many influences and aspirations, it’s remarkable how coherent it all feels. Appropriately enough, the turning point of Neon Indian’s career took place in the dead of night, under the neon glimmer of the city. All the best things do.