I know I said before that Neon Blonde was essentially an electronic side project for Blood Brothers members Johnny Whitney and Mark Gajadhar, but after digesting the convulsive twisting beast that is Chandeliers in the Savannah, I realize that description not only fails to do the band justice, but also screams of incorrectness. While Neon Blonde is indeed a side project for Whitney and Gajadhar, their electronic tendencies are far from dominant. Instead, the programmed beats and synth created beeps are merely one tactic the band has chosen to employ. As their songs teeter on the brink of chaos, playing like soundtracks for urban decay and post-apocalypse, you will find that the duo are just as adroit at kicking out some avant noise guitar spasms or ballad suggesting piano lines, as they are glitchy dance freakouts.
Much like their full-time gig, Whitney and Gajadhar create a world that is bleak. It is filled with pre-packaged smiles and airbrushed body parts to create a pleasurable veneer, while violence, decomposition, and a twisted sensuality claw to get out. Whitney’s vocals aid in creating a sinister and sometimes hair-raising atmosphere while the music’s sudden shifts and unusual sonic combinations serve as the perfect representation of the band’s macabre world-view.
What makes the songs on Chandeliers in the Savannah so impressive is that while they could each garner multiple genre comparisons as they meander through their strange courses, there is enough of a sense of melody and composition to keep them from completely going awry. They don’t walk the fine line between abrasive and accessible, they leap over it and then dash back.
Opener “Black Cactus Killer” could almost pass for a Blood Brothers song. Whitney’s guitar lines recall Cody Votolato’s own Telecaster work, while his voice runs the gamut between shriek and shit-talking. The major differences are that the choruses aren’t as loud, and of course Jordan Blilie isn’t there to back up Whitney.
“Crystal Beaches Never Turned Me On” features the first signs of electronics with its simple programmed beat and echoing noises, which are ridden by Whitney’s running piano lines during the verse and staccato keys during the choruses. It is these piano lines that keep the song rooted while Whitney explodes into screams.
On “Chandeliers and Vines,” it is the piano work that again keeps the song completely under control, as Whitney exhibits a surprising range and keen ear for melody. Neon Blonde have you convinced they have written a pop song until nearly two minutes in when a drum roll-filled freakout full of random piano plonks, off-kilter sax notes, and feral cries erupts.
The rest of the album continues to explore completely new territory with a heavy focus on the noise/melody dichotomy. “New Detroit” opens with a clunky acoustic and bongos that sound straight out of an Animal Collective song, before moving on to a Bowie-esque stomp, a revamped shout-fest version of the opening section, and eventually an outro that again recalls Animal Collective thanks to its soft vocal chants.
“Dead Mellotron” is choppy, spastic, and biting except for its organ-only bridge where Whitney sounds eerily like Joanna Newsome, while “The Future Is a Mesh Stallion” is the closest thing the band has to a club banger, and “Wings Made of Noise” simply boasts a Postal Service backing and basic guitar strum.
Chandeliers in the Savannah takes some time to explore. Often Whitney’s vocals can seem misplaced or strangely delivered, but after repeat listens these once distracting moments become welcome surprises.
The album is almost like a pop album for people who are sick of pop’s conventions. You will find the high-pitched offensive screams and awkward noise breakdowns eventually become stuck in your head just like a soft melody or poppy hook would. Whitney and Gajadhar know how to write songs, but they also know how to deconstruct them, break some of the parts, and then put them back together. Everything isn’t working properly, but damn does it still get the job done.