The Neighbourhood | I Love You | Rating: 7.9/11
Disclaimer: You will find no descriptives such as ‘brilliant,’ ‘amazing’ or ‘best [fill in the blank]’ here as followers of buzz bands want to do no matter the quality of said buzz band’s anxiously anticipated output.
What I will assign is the concurrence that The Neighbourhood, their attempt at a seamless fusing of sonic disconnect and their lofty ambitions of craftily embedding themselves into your music frontal lobe will probably succeed and do so for a number of reasons.
The Newbury Park, CA quintet’s campaign has been a stealth and skilled one as proven by their ascension in the ranks of “bands to watch,” playing it cooler than thou while rocking skinny jeans, requesting that all adhere to an established monochromatic aesthetic (perhaps they think they’ll burst into flames otherwise) and front man Jesse Rutherford’s bodacious neck tattoo. Now say what you want about the strategy, but it actually forced people to focus on their sound instead of spin. In truth, I Love You sits comfortably on the boundary lines they’ve drawn for themselves with preceding teaser EPs Thank You and I’m Sorry and goes nowhere near crossing them. But don’t be mad at them because, after all, they are a band with a plan.
If that sounds derisive, it’s not meant to be: It is meant to frame how effective targeted precision is in a music-oriented process, endeavor or action. This was literally hustle and flow.
Considering their EP and album titles – Thank You, I’m Sorry and I Love You – the Neighbourhood are subscribers to being abbreviated sentimentalists; less is more. Musically they’re sheer hip-hop noir on the surface, pop-centric beat poetry underneath: Less menacing, yet assuredly urban and contemporary making it accessible, digestible, angstful, smoky and sensual. Reenlisting only three songs from the previous EPs means I Love You is basically fresh meat for the senses. Opener “How” is a menacing echo chamber of beats catching up to Rutherford and his vein of paranoia/urban self-consciousness. One, the other or both are present in virtually every track.
Rutherford’s rap/singing is terrifically fluid while cleaving to enough agitation (whether feigned or frank) for the underlying romanticism and bitter pills of youth and young manhood to stand among the mix of synths, percussion and guitar that cover every song in an industrial wash. Loosening his clipped delivery just enough to croon (think Color Me Badd), “Alleyways” scores as Rutherford shades his tone somewhat flippantly to dissect and reflect on his being young and dumb, select regrets and living to tell about it with streaming weeps of guitar over his shoulder bringing up the atmosphere. But then there are tracks like “Flawless” and “W.D.Y.W.F.M?” which only truly get interesting when the choruses kick in and then you’re stuck. Which brings us back to the frontal lobe-thing.
As full length debuts go, I Love You is a self-assured one and decent start and – if we and the Neighbourhood are lucky – just a glance of the potential; fortunately the songs stretch well when performed live. What is questionable is how many rotations this album has in it for the listener. As a whole, the record’s heartbeat never modulates above what’s necessary to keep the blood moving through the body of it but never elevates to break out into a sweat. Or even a fine sheen of perspiration. That’s something that may work against it in terms of long-term viability to some ears as, on the third listen, it’s already doing so with mine. But (there’s always a but) the impact is made on The Neighbourhood’s terms, buzz be damned.