Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Neon Trees Are Terrible... in Awesomeness

I want to hate Utah pop-punk outfit Neon Trees. I want to loathe this band with every ounce of taste I have. Their music is simply a conglomeration of every pop gimmick that's been popularized in rock music over the last ten years and the record lacks depth, soul and heart both musically and lyrically. There are songs on the band's debut, Habits that literally make me cringe. And yet... and yet there are moments on the record that approach pop perfection with dynamic rhythms, heroin-addictive hooks and beats so catchy they're practically pandemic.

Opener "Sins of My Youth" seems a direct musical rip from 2008's well-meaning but unrealized and annoying post-emo musical Razia's Shadow complete with forceful but non-evocative vocals trying to convey some emotion the vocal never delivers. It's a party song about regretting drugs and parties which, I suppose, is ironic but a sort of irony that is more irritating than clever. This flows into "Love and Affection" which fails to conjure anything close to either emotion with unimaginative melodies lifted from 2004 while "In the Next Room" would make Panic at the Disco wish someone really would close the Goddamn door so nobody would steal their vaudeville-meets-pop-punk shtick. With "Our War" the Forgive Durden circle is drawn to a close with a sedate, contemplative monologue preceding a mostly forgettable closer.

Despite all these issues, despite all these mediocre songs I cannot stop listening to this album. Why? Because of a four song stretch in the middle that makes for some of the best summer music of the year. "1983" is actually probably a stupid song, but as a 27 year-old my senses of the tune's flaws are obscured by nostalgia and its hooks piled upon hooks. "Girls and Boys in School" attacks with a high-hat and snare good enough to fill out the playlist at most indie-rock dance parties in 2006 while "Your Surrender" is a jumping, pounding, pogo-ing anthem of who-cares-what-because-this-chorus-is-so-fun.

None of this would be able to salvage the record, however, without "Animal" which is, I have to say, is an almost perfect pop song. It's nimble and agile, subtle pauses leading into quick, entrancing movements. It has hooks, sing-a-longs, and just enough 2001 garage-rock affect to temper the singer's over-indulgent vocal. The result is a hot, hot, hot song that if their label marketed it smartly, would be an instant mainstream hit. It's exuberance and youth bottled and rendered in 0s and 1s.

Habits spends most of its time mimicking sounds of the band's successful predecessors and in many cases the failings of the songs are more failings of the source than of Neon Trees. When the band hits on something good, however, it's fucking electric.