As the pandemic seems to be reaching an end, at least here in Greece, at least for the summer, the need to get back to live shows as freely as before is reaching its peak. Coming across the latest album by Indie Rock band Underlined Passages titled ‘Neon Inoculation’ reinforced this craving. Maybe It’s the huge kickdrums or the mesmerizing guitars, maybe it’s just the emotions filling the air as the sound takes over the room. Let’s get into it and see what makes them so good.
The –almost depressing- beat of Feb. 1992 is looping throughout the opening track which, combined with this melancholic guitar line, is giving something that feels like 2006’s Keane (Under The Iron Sea) and 2010’s Massive Attack (Heligoland). It’s beautifully sad, best enjoyed next to a fireplace on a cold day of November. As the music takes the form of ‘The New Sincerity’, the snares grow bigger, echoing over a confident Shoegaze - flavored performance, dreamy and addictive thanks to the reverberating sound and the repetitive character of the beat. We are only two tracks into the album and it’s pretty obvious what we are dealing with. Let’s get ready for a trance. But before that, let’s stop for a minute to ‘count the stars’ at ‘Couple’s Therapy’.
A powerful ballad, ideal for a ‘crying while driving’ scene that somehow reminded me of Linkin Park at their less metal moments. The line ‘Let It Break Down’ is stretched multiple times throughout the track and, as an observer and a fan of music, I can say that this can either be received as too emotional or too tiring. But it’s intentional. It’s an overflow of feelings to the point of exhaustion. Like the young love we were obsessed over, pushing and pulling our limits, not knowing how to control this newfound chaos inside. That’s how intense Neon Inoculation sounds.
The ethereal vocals that form the chorus of the slow burning, chord-driven ‘Drone’ make for a memorable moment that feels more like a transition rather than a stand-alone track. It’s kind of a paradox but it’s an interesting part of the journey so far. ‘Birfucation’ opens with a more classic rock attitude, reservedly aggressive while -progressively- building its way to the most satisfying, fascinating bridge of blazing guitars, staccato-styled drums and exploding emotions. As this alloy of magic reaches its highest point, the track gives its place to ‘Lng Trm Xpsure’ which sounds like a brother to the previous. Same quality overall with some extra electronic details at certain points of the track while keeping a lower profile to not steal the thunder of its predecessor. The romantic, ‘Lng Ago, Fr Away’ talks about ghosts of the past, longing and of course, love lost. For what would be a love song without lost love? As the line ‘Here tonight we are one’ is sang repeatedly towards the end, it sounds like a celebration of all that was lived, of the precious moments we sometimes forget to get invested in. It’s another significant moment in the album where the trio emotion/performance/instrumental is perfectly aligned giving off a sense of euphoria and fulfillment. Talking about living in the moment, the following ‘I Was Wrong’ seals the deal as the line ‘No tomorrows, no tomorrows, just today’ is echoing to eternity. A solid rock ballad defined by a dominating snare and ethereal, harmonizing vocals in the likes of ‘Drone’ that declare the liberation of our hearts and underline the importance of ‘now’.
And here comes my cup of tea. A pulsing sound, like a beating heart, followed by minimal, metallic percussion dressed with hypnotizing vocals. ‘Quaalz’ is instantly captivating, grabbing you like a spider into its web. It feels like an empty space where all the layers of the track are dancing seductively in coordination, inviting the listener to get lost inside of it. Or maybe the instrumentals in this album are so rich that the abstraction of ‘Quaalz’ hits a lot harder that it would in a less rock album. Either way, it’s undeniably a gem of Neon Inoculation and probably my personal favorite so far. The album closes with the melancholic ‘Circles-Sand’ that explores, once again, lost love. The vocals here are in the frontline and the melody feels more like a background to the singer’s expression for the first time. No big kickdrums and strong guitars here. Only words of pain and loss, enough to touch you deeply and have you wanting more. I’d love to listen to an extended version of it but for the time being I’m fine repeating it until I’m full. Still, it would be very interesting to listen to a full body of work with a ‘Circles-Sand’ approach to its mixing and production.
In a nutshell, Neon Inoculation is a beautiful, nostalgic journey that will have you staring into nothingness, traveling into the past and thinking of all the faces you ever shared love, time and effort with. Production-wise, this is excellent work, the kind that makes you wonder why the band has not blown up yet. Also, the album is highly cohesive, regardless of the moments of experimentation in it, which –by the way- are real treats and do not feel strange at all. On the contrary, they are a looking glass into the band’s ability to play and break free from labels. Even though Underlined Passages is clearly Indie Rock, it definitely has the potential to pave its own path and even go far beyond that.
Enjoy Neon Inoculation here: