Category: Electro / Rock / Goth
Album: California Noir – Chapter Two: Nightlife in Neon
Blurb: This isn’t Miami Vice… more like Los Angeles Vice; as lush and cinematic a vision of the City of Angels as the preceding chapter, filtered through a nostalgic lens of ‘80s inspired new wave and post-punk, Julien-K surpasses itself with this triumphant fourth album.
With the first chapter of the band’s two part California Noir album series, Julien-K embarked on a journey of electronic rediscovery and gothic bliss, redefining the parameters by which audiences understand the dark aesthetics the band employs. Equal parts post-punk, alternative rock, and new wave, Analog Beaches & Digital Cities presented a veritable concoction of darkly sensual grooves, driven by a smooth interplay of electronic hooks and driving guitars, topped off by enticing melodies that skirted the line between joy and melancholy – the album served as a soundtrack to exploring the darker recesses of the city once the twilit dusk has settled into the radiant haze of night. With Chapter Two: Nightlife in Neon, the band continues down this path, upping the ante and sending the listener on a trip through to a bygone era that still exists once the sun has set.
After an ominous smattering of radio static and Japanese voices in the introductory “Signals in the Void,” the anthemic arpeggios and vibrant melody of “Spectromeda” enters, its vibe familiar and welcoming. Sweet, saccharine, and reminiscent of every uplifting closing track from any ‘80s comedy or drama, the song sets the stage for what the rest of the album has in store. While Julien-K has always flirted with new wave textures and melding them with a hard rock mentality, the songs on Nightlife in Neon accomplish this merger in a way that is sure to remind listeners of the best moments of Depeche Mode. “Dossier,” for instance, with its driving rhythm, Ryan Shuck’s luscious vocal harmonies and sexual lyrics, and Amir Derakh’s alluring synth hooks is sure to bring back memories of songs like “Behind the Wheel” or “Nothing” from Music for the Masses, while the metallic breakbeats, soulful yet strident and strutting vocals, and bluesy guitars of “Institution,” topped off by Anthony “Fu” Valcic’s sparse but effective synth solo may sound like a throwback to the Violator or Songs of Faith and Devotion era. Other standouts include the gothic ballad “Solar” with its moody strums of guitar and despondent pianos, “Mannequin Eyes” with its chugging new wave energy, and most especially “Dark Cadence” with its noisy interplay of distorted guitar swagger, aggressive beats that pop and clank with fervor, and Shuck’s harmonious vocals set to stun! From start to finish, the album progresses toward a harder edged sensibility, starting off with the electronics initially taking lead as gritty bass and guitars rise in prominence, gradually raising the sonic temperature to culminate in the bombastic ambience of the penultimate track “Temple,” the steely thrums of an acoustic guitar just barely audible beneath the crystalline shimmers of electric passages while Shuck’s defiant and impassioned vocals, with a little backing from Amber Snead, make for what is sure to be a crowd pleaser at live shows.
Furthermore, with the bouncy electro of songs like “Corrections” and “Sunset Life,” the ‘80s inspired vibe of Nightlife in Neon may seem novel to some; however, Julien-K’s pristine and finely crafted production and lyrical savvy ensures that the music is very much of its time and location to offer a cinematic vision of the seedy and sensual underbelly of the city filtered through a nostalgic lens. Perhaps the true scope of California Noir can’t be felt unless one listens to the two chapters back-to-back, both albums complementing each other and creating a more complete picture of Julien-K’s nocturnal fantasy; but that’s not to say that they don’t stand on their own as individual works, and given the strength of the songs on Nightlife in Neon, it’s clear that Chapter Two surpasses its predecessor. Not only that, but the album’s IndieGoGo campaign managed to outdo the previous entry, proving that the fans were hungry for what Julien-K had to offer… and Nightlife in Neon delivers what the band promised and more!