By Mikael Wood
6:00 AM PDT, April 24, 2013
In a memo sent to journalists covering this month's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the Neighbourhood asked that its early-afternoon set be photographed only in black and white. A silly request? For sure. But it's one entirely in keeping with the devotion to style that runs through "Sweater Weather," this young L.A. band's current alt-rock radio hit, in which frontman Jesse Rutherford admires a lady friend's "little high-waisted shorts" before laying out his hopes for where their evening might go: "One love, two mouths / One love, one house / No shirt, no blouse."
That exacting attention to sartorial detail -- "high-waisted shorts"! -- distinguishes the Neighbourhood from many of the rather burlier bros on KROQ. With its processed vocals and man-machine groove, though, "Sweater Weather" is just one of a growing number of lightly bionic rock songs that have crossed over recently from alternative to pop audiences -- think of Neon Trees' "Everybody Talks," Awolnation's "Sail" and "It's Time" by Imagine Dragons. Or recall "Pumped Up Kicks," the 2011 single that L.A.'s Foster the People rode all the way to No. 3 on the Hot 100.
All these tunes feel like part of rock's attempt to appeal to Gen Y listeners who've largely grown up without the genre, an effort the Neighbourhood appears aligned with throughout its debut album. In "W.D.Y.W.F.M?" Rutherford takes a crack at Rihanna's trademark vocal stutter, while "Let It Go" has him more or less rapping over a squelchy, dubstep-inspired bass line. And though the album is full of guitars, they're often manipulated to sound like synthesizers, as in "Female Robbery" and "Everybody's Watching Me (Uh Oh)."
But if the Neighbourhood shares those other acts' textural know-how (and occasionally improves upon them), it rarely holds onto the ear it's figured out how to grab. Where "Everybody Talks" and "It's Time" condense rock thrills to pop dimensions, the songs on "I Love You" stretch out into dreary electro-goth atmospherics; they lack any kind of urgency, even when Rutherford is singing in "Flawless" about how he "just can't wait for love to destroy us."
A lack of urgency, of course, might precisely be the Neighbourhood's point on an album that seems to want to say something about the dangers of wasting one's youth in the Coachella VIP. As a lyricist, Rutherford packs a lot of miserable information into hashtag-ready lines like those that open "W.D.Y.W.F.M?": "Two nights ago, she got that look in her eyes / Kaleidoscope." And the group's listlessness is convincing in "Alleyways," which lifts a desolate one-note guitar riff from the xx.
On "I Love You," though, the Neighbourhood burns through those colors pretty quickly. The band does black and white, but nothing in between.The Neighbourhood
"I Love You"
Follow Mikael Wood on Twitter: @mikaelwood
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