Photo Credit: Drew Ressler
Neon Future III, the third installment of the Neon Future series, feels weakly themed, without enough context to make it a concept album. Instead, popular culture plays the main lead in guiding the listener through a digital escape of pitch bending bass synths and free-hinged lyrical hooks.
The album starts off with an absent, forgotten piano, in a distraught universe. A machine is found. It beckons us. It keeps calling and then, “Welcome to Neon Future”, hits and drops and the intro is off and running. Minutes pass, fading with a hiss. At this point, the listener expects something new and energetic, a kick off. “Just Hold On” starts off surprisingly cliché. The vocals are underwhelming and lyrically mundane. It’s at times like these, that you notice the lackluster production value of the track, supposedly a thrilling opener, yet it falls rather flat. The chorus “OH’s” do nothing but instill a great desire to select next.
The second song off of Neon Future III, “Waste It On Me”, feels like a hit out of 2013. Five years behind and emotionally distant, it is a melodrama that is just, “A waste of your time”, as the track’s final verse ironically concludes. Finally the album feels poise and thrills on the song “Be Somebody” with swung bass hits and Kiiara on vocals. Lyrically frustrated, the listener can get involved and emote. Who doesn’t want to be somebody? The drive behind the song lies in the buildups, which are steady, and the release into a pleasing chorus, that manages to speak for itself.
“Pretender” is the first and much needed gimmick of Neon Future III. The song is ideal for anyone searching for their identity or to tell a friend to check themselves and let loose. We are all pretenders. “A Lover And A Memory”, feels like the heart of the album. Its mature lyrics and deep sentiment make this track a hit. The chorus is infectious and Mike Posner brings his careful precision and distinct delivery, calling into question, “How did we end up somewhere between a lover and a memory?”
At this point the album changes pace with “Why Are We So Broken”. As a Blink-182 fan, it seems like heresy above the surface. Yet below, there is a nostalgic playfulness that allows the listener to freely detach Mark Hoppus’ voice from the band’s legacy and suspend it nicely in a universe of exactitude and precision electronic producing. After all, we are all in the process of freeing our perceptions throughout this album, and what better way to do that than taking musical icons out of their element. “Why Are We So Broken” is a success, even if it goes over the heads of younger generations who never experienced Blink-182 in their prime.
“Golden Days” keeps up, with cheery synth layering. Nostalgic and childlike, there is innocence to this song. It feels like a reprise from elsewhere, refreshing, and the lifting hook needed to sustain listener’s midway through the album. As a turn, Lady Antebellum is featured on, “Our Love Grows”. The lead singer’s country twang makes each lyrical hook into cotton candy. The production steps up a notch and lets out a bit as well. The party feel ensues with “Anything More” and “All Night”, two inferior anthems that lead into the hit, “Do Not Disturb” featuring Bella Thorne. This track compliments the album with catchy lyrics and a tight chorus hook.
“Azukita” featuring Daddy Yankee, is a twist in a fresh direction. The lyrics state, “La morena tiene algo // Que me llena de sabor,” translated as: “The brunette has something // That fills me with flavor.” “Hoovela”, is an instrumental that everyone will enjoy raging to. Coproduced with TWIIG, this lineup favorite, is a telling example of why Steve Aoki is one of the most successful touring acts in the world, earning over $100 million during his highly active career. The track “Everything that we ever wanted”, intimates, futuristically, to what Aoki and his fan base have collectively created and will ascertain, and certainly seems like the words of a superstar who has brought happiness and entertainment to millions of eager listeners.
The album closer, “Noble Gas” is in line with Aoki’s progressive vision of the world. It states that the future is a “Neon Future”, featuring a monologue from science legend, Bill Nye. The album ends where it began, futuristic and robotic, bringing a high art feel to an EDM scene that has evolved along with its fans. Although the album as a whole is inconsistent in track quality, Steve Aoki remains at the top of the genre. Neon Future III is a sufficient album for 2018, although in no way is it a game changer for the EDM scene. Fans of electronic music and Steve Aoki should refer back to his previous Neon Future series installments before tackling this middling album.
Written by: Sean Fitzgerald