The Neighbourhood plays it a little too safe with “To Imagine”

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To Imagine CA
(The cover art for The Neighbourhood’s new EP “To Imagine.”)

The Neighbourhood revolves around mood and aesthetic. This California emo/pop band creates an atmosphere of dark pleasantness and sentimental moodiness that feels better placed in the 80’s or the mid-2000’s than now but that doesn’t mean they sound bad. When The Neighbourhood leans into the darker and more cacophonous side of their aesthetic they make some very interesting pop songs.

With their new EP “To Imagine” they play it too safe and lean into the more standard, poppy part of their aesthetic. “To Imagine” consists of one pretty interesting song with a sci-fi sound and four forgettable love songs. The EP has some solid composition and dynamics and puts on a very smooth ’80’s vibe but it doesn’t have much else. That’s fine. Not every EP or album needs to have everything. This EP does what it does well enough that it has a very good sense of feeling to it. Still, it makes me wonder if The Neighbourhood couldn’t do a little more.

“Dust” sparks my wondering more than any other track. For a pop song, it has a lot of small, weird touches to it. It has a kind of odd backbeat made of a clapping snare and fast bass rhythm that feels torn from the ’80’s. The song sidelines the vocals with an odd echo effect in the middle. The vocals themselves are often more like chants than lyrics, and tons of vocal fadeouts and autotuning are used to enhance the song’s sci-fi vibe. “Dust” launches into a very atmospheric and rich synth-fueled breakdown from about 2:20 to 2:50 before collapsing into autotuned nonsense. It’s a beautiful mess.

“Dust” shows a lot of the strange flickers of potential The Neighbourhood always seems to have. The sounds used – – the types of synths, the background noises, for example, make the song feel simultaneously gritty and smooth. The lyrics don’t have much too them but they create a strong dystopian mood that matches with the song. The song’s composition is subtly cool as hell, with tons of rising and falling action and some striking instrumental and vocal breakdowns. “Dust” has loads of likable features and interesting ideas, making it the kind of song that draws me back to this band.

The other tracks don’t measure up in the same way. Every subsequent track is a love song that all express a mix of gratitude and fear for having a deep love for another person. If you’re looking for a rhythmic, synth-heavy love song then “To Imagine” has you covered so well that it’ll probably start to feel tiring. I listen to most things I review four or more times back-to-back and a nauseating amount of times over a few days. “To Imagine” eventually stopped feeling like an EP to me and more like “Dust” and “those other four love songs.”

“Heaven” has a cool “Stranger Things” synth line, some clumsy half-rap, and some strange lyrics (“you… remind me of my mom”). “Scary Love” has some cool melodies, a neat stuttered vocal line, a nice pop into the chorus but drags on too long. “Compass” is my favorite song based purely on vocals, it uses an r&b style of singing that works super well, and it has crisp drum rolls and strings, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it has pretty sappy lyrics. “Stuck With Me” is the least interesting of the bunch in terms of lyrics, composition, and sound selection.

Put it all together and you have a pretty alright EP. It feels safer and duller than I would like to hear from The Neighbourhood but it does a few things the band pretty much always does well. It creates a very nice, dark, but sentimental and sweet mood. Most songs have compelling structures and get me to buy in with smooth bridges, fluid build-ups, and cool breakdowns.

It’s not an EP meant for repeat listens or heavy thought and I’m sure that will hurt it critically. It might seem like a bad EP, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s solid overall and better than that when you take it on feeling, bob your head to the beat, and absorb the moods. You’ll kill the EP picking at the lyrics, trying to dissect it, and playing the critic every time you put it on, but if you take it for what it is – – an EP that creates a solid sense of mood – then it works just fine.

6.5/10

Napcloud

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