Wiped Out!: Welcome to The Neighbourhood sound

By Shalayne Pulia

Lead vocalist Jesse Rutherford, guitarists Jeremy Freedman and Zach Abels, bassist Michael Margott and drummer Brandon Fried brought their Ventura County, California, band together in 2011.ss Previous EPs haven’t quite honed the dark, cohesive sound that they ultimately find in this album, culminating in the song “R.I.P. 2 My Youth.”

It’s a clear extension from “Sweater Weather,” which spent 27 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 back in December 2013. ssThe band still has the same mysterious edge. But this album’s highlights strike a deeper chord with lyrics that build on the familiar — stories of a troubled 20-something state-of-mind faced with the daunting reality of growing up.

The best tracks tell a story. Rutherford’s lyrics, quick or languid, add detail to an intricate rehash of years past. In a haze, he tries to make sense of it all. The weaker tracks fall back on repetition of a more flat-line tune, beating in the depressing tone. It works, though, focusing on intrinsic emotion of sound itself, like the disheartening undertone to long strums on an electric guitar.

It starts in silence: 30 seconds of no sound. The emptiness focuses attention and sets the atmosphere for a melodic guitar opening to a play on words in “Prey.” Confusion and angst culminate in a brooding place where, “It all hurts, it all hurts just the same.”

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Enter “Cry Baby.” That pop-y sound is back with a faster drumbeat and a sultry, sly tone to Rutherford’s voice. He tells you a secret then pulls you back to reality again, his band behind him, until the mood calls for long, droning cries. An electric guitar cries alongside him, leading into the title track, “Wiped Out!” It cuts the deepest with a loose-lipped melody. We’re in a daydream of sound, slowly easing into the darkness fitting of a band hard-pressed to don a color other than black or white – the visual equivalent to all or nothing.

And they give it their all in just over six minutes, opening midway through to highlight Rutherford’s passion for rap-rhythmic vocals. It releases to echoes for a shift suspending, holding on the hope of a single note. Prince-like electric guitar notes shorten for the build and eventual fade. Their strength is growing. It’s all becoming clear for a band “never satisfied.”

“Baby Came Home 2/Valentine” is as purposefully disjointed as its title. Pausing at the center, it holds the electronic notes, mirroring the impressive stop-go strobe lighting at their concerts. A tropical feel slips in with ocean waves — the palm tree on the album cover finally makes sense. Dreamlike and tranquil with an ominous tribal beat, it’s far from paradise. But it tells the well-known story of youth slipping away in all of its pain, joy and regret.

Then we’re back in SoCal surrounded by a hollow chorus moving swiftly to ?“Ferrari,” which offers the most striking contrast. They’re gaining momentum. They’ve made peace with reality, and it’s not pretty. “Single” stands last in line before their youth is over. Hip hop influence takes hold again as Rutherford conserves just enough energy to puff his last lyrics out into the air – a clouded, smoky longing.

Then comes the funeral. With the song, “R.I.P. 2 My Youth,” the album’s most popular, they come of age to a stronger, cohesive Neighbourhood sound. “I was naïve and hopeful and lost/Now I’m aware and driving my thoughts.” The song suggests that they’ve put the angst-ridden spell of youth behind them to live in this disjointed paradise of young adulthood. The sounds of Neighbourhood’s latest release are oddly soothing in their despair. With the last song, they move to the future in all its uncertainty, like the rest of their 20-something peers, ready for an aptly timed graduation.

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