Album Review: Chip Chrome and The Mono-Tones by The Neighbourhood
Transcending the moody indie limits of their chart-topping 2013 hit, Sweater Weather, The Neighbourhood reignite their flame in a foreign yet refreshing way through a clustered combination of colors and feelings on their new record, Chip Chrome and the Mono-Tones. The title sure is a mouth full but it’s just the right amount of dramatic that it needed to fully be itself. Paired with stirring and flashy visuals, the record introduces an array of eclectic sounds that add up to a daring body of work. Jesse Rutherford, the lead singer and daring frontman has created a persona or alter ego (Chip Chrome) to represent the project. Painted entirely in silver with glossy eyeshadow, silver spandex, and flashy grills, Chip adds character to the album and the thematics of it hold the body of work together as one of fluidity. It begins with “Chip Chrome,” an instrumental that feels like it’s dropping us off somewhere, as though we are landing on a foreign planet as it descends us down, only to shine a bright light on us. We are entering the world of the character of Chip Chrome, unsure of where we will end up but giddy for the journey ahead. What follows the opening song is not the expected sound. Instead of coming across as chaotic and confused, it is slow, pleasant, and reflective.
The second track, “Pretty Boy” might have to be one of my favorites off the record. Rutherford’s vocals are made to instantly soothe, creating something perfect for staring out the car window, pretending to be in a music video. (It’s okay–we’ve all done it.) In terms of vocal performance, “Pretty Boy” is a top contender, even in all it’s subtly. It doesn’t even feel necessarily out of touch with the “old” The Neighbourhood sound that originally gripped fans in that notorious 2013-2014 “Tumblr era” of indie music. Although it is a love song, there appears to be a cloud of darkness hovering above it with lyrics like “Even if my heart stops beating / You’re the only thing I need with me / Even if the Earth starts shaking, you’re the only thing worth taking.” As the album progresses, we instantly hear a loud sample from “Wish that You Were Mine” by The Manhattans, a popular R&B group from the 70s. Snapping us out of the “Pretty Boy” trance, “Lost in Translation” is introduced, omitting an entirely different atmosphere than before. Energetic and groovy, the track is one to dance to. It certainly stands out on the record, not necessarily staying in line with the atmosphere of any of the other songs, yet still remaining a necessary part. “Devil’s Advocate” feels like the middle ground between “Pretty Boy” and “Lost in Translation” with edgy guitar riffs accompanied by energetic yet smooth synths. You immediately sense the bold and captivating nature of Chip Chrome, adding a layer to the complex persona the band has sculpted. It seems to represent how they plan to keep progressing with their music and experimenting with their true sound.
“Hell or High Water” introduces a sound resembling old country music, resemblant of the classics such as Johnny Cash, etc. Still, this slight switch in genre is still not quite enough to make it feel out of place on the album. It’s whimsical and quirky yet the lyrics embody reflection without the suffocating nostalgia that sometimes comes with looking back on the past. They’re optimistic, as though light is peaking through the cracks of a dark room, which is usually an uncommon sentiment in The Neighbourhood’s music, making this all the more special. Following this is “Cherry Flavoured,” which may just be my favorite track. It feels like a carefully crafted lullaby but the steady drums and quiet synths breathe life into it. About a third of the song in, it all clashes together to add that head-bopping element, perhaps in an effort to lighten the continuously present theme of a near-crippling self-doubt. The unequivocal candor in the lyrics makes them ever-more relatable and feels as though Rutherford is taking a pause to analyze where he might want to go from here.
Acting as an intermission, “The Mono-Tones” then follows, showcasing Rutherford’s voice pitched up. The short 1 minute and 14 seconds of the song continue to pack in layers of self-doubt and the journey to finding a sense of self in a world engulfed by chaos. We are then quickly taken to “BooHoo,” which represents Rutherford’s solo music more than anything. The overt yet not overdone autotune is a staple in his other projects and now is experimented with within this track. It is bouncy and fun, saturated with synths and humorous lyrics such as, “Call her Alexander ‘cause I treat her like McQueen.” Still, the theme of uncertainty and insecurity permeates with lyrics like, “You hate it when I overreact / I wish I didn’t act like that / I always feel under attack / You keep telling me to relax.”
“Silver Lining” seems to never fail to make me bounce side to side but in the most subtle of ways. The steady and strong drums stay constant, although the song as a whole remains tranquil with Rutherford’s honeyed vocals. It is similar to “Tobacco Sunburst,” the song that follows, which is, however, stripped down significantly more. It seems as though the band is slowing down, trying to figure out who to become and how to do it. Finally, the record concludes with “Middle of Somewhere,” which ties the entire project together seamlessly. Rutherford’s vocals are effortless but powerful in carefully placed bursts. Vocal effects and additional instruments other than the acoustic guitar are limited and sprinkled in meticulously. It’s brooding and meditative, summing up all the diverse elements of each of the songs prior. In a lyric that perhaps sums up the majority of the record, Rutherford sings, “Everyone is an alien / When you’re trying to find your place.”
The Neighbourhood have almost entirely shed their past selves with their final record on Columbia Records, signifying that an end of an era has arrived and henceforth introducing us to the beginning of their reinvention. However, it still manages to feel comforting that they don’t seem to even quite know yet where they are headed either. “Chip Chrome and the Mono-Tones” is filled with uncertainty, deep reflection, hope, and sometimes, just fun. The record feels like The Neighbourhood inviting us on this journey with them. I know I am not alone in this when I say that that 2014 tumblr era that they rose to fame in and became a prime staple of, helped me find a sense of self and sculpted my music taste today, which has been growing from that framework ever since. It only feels right to happily join The Neighbourhood and accompany them on their journey, now that it is their turn to find themselves. This record is the impressive and daring first step outside of the past and the hesitant embracing of the present and future.