Monday, October 26, 2020

NEON ANGEL "Neon Light District"


(c) 2020 Sliptrick Records

  1. Another Kind Of Love
  2. Neon Angel
  3. Love Addiction
  4. Are You There
  5. The City Is Sleeping
  6. World On Fire
  7. Night Tripper
  8. Simon
Johanna Etelakari--Lead Vocals
Tuomas Saari--Guitars
Juho Savikurki--Synth
Tomas Kurki--Bass
Johannes Lati--Drums

Neon Angel is a new band for me that found its way to my inbox from Finland.  Sporting strong female lead vocals, Neon Angel has a definite affinity for 80s metal, incorporating strong guitar leads and a powerful bass presence along with synthesizers and pretty much typical 80s-styled drumming.  However, rather than simply rehash the 80s hard rock sound, Neon Angel uses their synth presence to produce a sound that is a hybrid of 80s metal and New Wave with a little goth rock flavor (especially on "Are You There"), giving them a sound that is not really like anyone else I can think of off the top of my head.

Stylistically, there is no real way to nail down the sound of Neon Angel, exactly, as no two songs here really sound all that much alike and, as I stated above, there is a definite cross-contamination of styles at play.  On Neon Light District's opening track, "Another Kind Of Love", big arena styled drums kick off what feels like a big 80s metal anthem complete with some early 80s Deep Purple-styled keyboard to really provide a full, driving rock sound.  Catchy and teasingly familiar, "Another Kind Of Love" is a really good opening track for the band, although I do with the guitar solo had more emphasis in the song.  What the song does do very well, however, is showcase the vocals of Johanna Etelakari (just Johanna from here on out).  Johanna's vocals are definitely upper-register, with just enough of a sassy snarl to carry that tough 80s rocker chick vibe, and the backing vocals are layered nicely as well, giving Johanna a full sound through the chorus sections.  

The band's namesake track, Neon Angel, is up next and intros with what sounds for all the world to me to be a harpsichord to start things off, before giving way to a really smooth, soulful lead-in solo from Saari, which is one of the few times he is truly given the green light to really show off his skill.  Then, suddenly, the song kicks into high gear on a poppy, New Wave inspired rocker that is very synth heavy with Johanna taking on more of a Debbie Harry-styled approach to her vocals.  Think of Harry singing "Rapture" for an idea of how Johanna handles the vocal lines here, even though the song itself has more in common with a harder rocking Psychedelic Furs than with Blondie. The funny thing is, I actually kind of like the song and applaud the band for bringing all of their influences to the table here.

A dirty guitar riff and a rollicking piano kick things off on "Love Addiction" which again finds Johanna in that Debbie Harry region vocally.  In fact, if pressed, I would have to say this is the style she tends toward throughout the record and I have to give her credit, as she handles the style and range very well.  Musically, this track isn't that far removed from something Lita Ford might have done in the 80s, although there are still more synths incorporated in the track than your typical stadium rockers utilized back in the day.  But that's okay.  Neon Angel is definitely not a clone of anyone and there is something to be said for that.  The chorus is pretty catchy here, and the guitar work, while not flashy, is definitely solid and drives the song forward.  To my ear, this is the musical style the band works best with, and Johanna can seemingly handle pretty much any style the band wants to work in, so I would say "Love Addiction" is one of the best two or three tracks here.

"Are You There" slows things down a bit, but doesn't tone down the intensity or diversity of the music at all.  Starting off with a bass riff and some straight-forward time-keeping percussion, Johanna whispers "are you there?", an 80s-inspired keyboard tone plinks in a few notes, and the song hits its stride.  This is a darker-vibed song than most here and Johanna's voice takes on something of a haunting tone throughout the course of this nearly six minute track.  To me, this type of song screams 80s movie soundtrack, something like Lost Boys or the like, which incorporated hard rockers and more New Wave alt rock tracks.  "Are You There" is definitely in the latter category, and I found myself continually waiting for the guitar that is buzzing just below the surface to really rip itself free of the song, but it never does.  Again, this is an intense, dark song, but it is lacking that something to really put it over the top for me, and I'm guaranteeing that "something" is just a ferocious guitar riff and searing solo to drive this track home.

"The City Is Sleeping" returns to a more straight-forward hard rock style with dirty rhythm guitar riff, thick bass work...and some cowbell!!!...on a gritty number that once again is something akin to what you might have heard Lita Ford tackling in 1988.  This is would probably my favorite track on the record as it the track that finds the band shedding the majority of the synth and New Wave stylings in favor of straight up arena rock (albeit with some seriously kickass bass work from Kurki).  I say "would be my favorite", as well as "shedding the majority of the synth and New Wave stylings because I'll be darned if a key-tar solo doesn't pop up after the second chorus, which really knocked me upside the head and does a lot of damage to an otherwise really good song.  At this point, I'm really wondering if Saari is just not comfortable with (or capable of) solo work.  He is definitely a competent rhythm player, but nowhere does he just lay into an old school solo that would go so far in stepping a couple of these songs forward a big step.

"World On Fire" and "Night Tripper" are both decent enough rockers, with "World On Fire" kicking off with some big, arena-styled drum work and an early 80s hard rock approach that laces synths into the spaces the guitars don't cover, and also features some decent guitar work on the record.  Once again, Johanna is in that Debbie Harry range vocally, and the band sounds incredibly comfortable here.  "Night Tripper" is the hardest-hitting track on the album, with a far more uptempo take on the Neon Angel sound and style than anything else here.  The rhythm guitars are really strong here and the keys/synths are relegated to a supporting role in this track that combines a NWOBHM sound with something closer to Loverboy.  I know, I know...sounds crazy, but that is really where my head goes.  If the keys were there, I'd come close to comparing Neon Angel to Girlschool here, but then those keys hit and my mind goes off on a "Working For The Weekend" tangent for some reason.  Saari does hit his only real guitar solo of the record here, and it's actually pretty good, and I'd have to say this is probably the best track on the record overall.  

The album closes with the longest song here, the nearly six minute ballad, "Simon".  Johanna is really strong here, showcasing her range well, but the track is simply too overwrought for my tastes.  The piano does some nice work on the first half of the song, and the oddly utilized guitars add an eerie vibe to the track, but when coupled with the old-school production, this song just comes at me from a weird direction and doesn't do much for me, to be honest.  On a positive note, the bass work here is once again excellent, and there are some unique orchestrations going on but this is pretty much just a filler track to me.

The production here is definitely old school in its sound, and it really feels like this is an album that might be best listened to on vinyl, or perhaps even cassette, as there is none of the digital sterility that a lot of bands use today to make their music sound brighter and more polished.  That isn't to say Neon Light District sounds like it was recorded in a basement or garage, because that is not the case.  But, just as the band has a definite love and feel for the 80s style, so to do they utilize more 80s-styled production methods on this record, giving the entire project a truly indie band, throwback feel.  Some will relish in the sound and style and some will be turned off by it, no doubt.  It is what it is.

Overall, there is a good deal of talent here, especially in Johanna's vocals and the strong synth work from Savikurki.  That last part is odd for me to write, as I normally find myself complaining about too many keys or too much synth, but with Neon Angel, the synth is such an integral part of the sound a lesser musician would likely have really muddied the feel the band was seeking here.  The rhythm guitars are solid, and while generally unspectacular there are a couple of decent guitar leads, and the bass is really strong throughout the record.  As I mentioned before, the drums are pretty much the 80s New Wave/harder radio rock standard style here, which means they fit well but aren't something that are going to jump out at you.  Giving this project an even more 80s feel is the fact that there are only eight songs here, as was often the case in the A-side, B-side days of vinyl.  All but one of the songs tops 4 minutes in length, with two nearly hitting 6 minutes, so you aren't being cheated out of a bunch of music here, it's just stretched out across longer songs.

If this type of hybrid rock sounds like it might interest you, I think Neon Angel is worth giving a shot.  

Rating:  Not bad at all, and definitely Rock-worthy, although Neon Angel will definitely not be everyone's cup of tea.  Rock this at 6!

No comments:

Post a Comment