Review by Oliver Hermann
The Neighbourhood’s new album WIPED OUT! via Columbia Records is hard to qualify. The album consists of a curious blend of styles––a blend, which does not entirely succeed. Long spells of instrumental ambience slide into alt-rock verses with poppy vocal lines. At times, background singers hint at R&B. Other times, sampling lends the air of an experimental soundtrack. Without staring at a tracklist, it grows difficult to differentiate between one song’s ending and another one’s beginning.
The album begins with thirty seconds of silence in the aptly named, “A Moment of Silence.” But I question why that silence is there. Whatever the reason to which the band attributes the song’s existence––Jesse Rutherford describes it in some part as a homage to his late father––it’s hard to avoid hearing a plaintive cry from the lyric, “Look how deep I am.” All the same, excluding “A Moment of Silence,” the album certainly begins on a strong note. Out of an ethereal choral atmosphere appears a crisp guitar line, and from there “Prey” only accelerates into an inescapably catchy piece of alt-rock. “Prey” also sets the bar for the intricate musical textures heard throughout the rest of the album. Soon, the foot-tapping “Cry Baby” slides into the eponymous “WIPED OUT!”. Perhaps fittingly, “WIPED OUT!” forms a fairly accurate microcosm of the album as a whole. The song transforms from a standard piece of alt-rock into something totally different: an experimental landscape of wailing distorted guitars and overdriven synths growing progressively more dissonant and abrasive. Gradually this dissonance dissolves into arpeggiated chords and breathy vocals. Like the album as a whole, it’s hard to say what this song is or is meant to be. It jumps between almost annoyingly typical alternative rock and intriguing experimentalism, but never really decides which it wants to be.
This trend is only reiterated as the album goes on. “Daddy Issues” at times verges on electro-pop. “Baby Came Home 2” takes a similar tack as “WIPED OUT!” mutating from a slow ballad of strummed guitar and backing vocals reminiscent of R&B into a throbbing instrumental of textural distortions and atmospheric samples––bongos, demonic brass, moaning vocals, distorted synths. Indeed, that song’s outro could practically have come off a Tame Impala album; it strides so ardently toward the psychedelic. And yet, three songs later comes “Single”, when the mystery of this album only deepens. “Single” plays like a slightly indie-er Bruno Mars song. Again the level of instrumentation and musical execution remains high, but the artistic direction confusing.
WIPED OUT! proves difficult to understand. The album vacillates between the poppy alt-rock you would expect to hear upon entering Urban Outfitters and a much more experimental brand of Lennon-esque pseudo-psychedelia. Both musical directions are well executed, but their combination cannot help but leave one feeling slightly confused and unfulfilled. In line with this issue, for such precise instrumental complexity and textural depth, the vocal lines throughout the album are disappointingly bland. I can’t help wishing The Neighbourhood had been more willing to venture into an exploratory direction without clinging to more typical poppy tropes. And frankly, if the whole album had been unassuming but well-executed alt-rock I would have been happy as well. But in the awkward blending of the two styles, the sum did not surpass the parts. WIPED OUT! is a pretty good album which could have been great, and for this reason it disappoints.