Near the end of “Slumlord,” the second single from Neon Indian’s third LP, VEGA INTL. Night School, the song’s whirling, hypnotic synth line fades away, drowned out by the sound of applause. A club announcer roars at the crowd. A party is taking place, “sometime in 1992, somewhere in Italy,” says Alan Palomo, the band’s 27-year-old frontman and creative force, who’s sitting in his tour van. He and the rest of Neon Indian’s​ touring band are riding to San Antonio from Austin between a small slate of pre-album release shows. I joined the band in Austin the day before, right as they were setting up to play at J. Lorraine Ghost Town, a kitschy Old West tourist attraction 30 minutes from the city. It was Palomo’s first Austin show in three years, promoting what will be his first album in four years.

“To this day, because I don’t speak Italian, I only have a vague grasp on what he’s talking about. I really hope it’s not anything awful,” Palomo says, laughing. “But whatever that party was, I’d rather exoticize it and make it feel like a mystery to me. Like, ‘What is that party?’ I’d say wherever it happened, that’s where the record happens.”

These sorts of scenes exist all over Night School, a turbulent, funky, and eminently danceable record that is one of the year’s best. In it Palomo sings about the nocturnal inhabitants of a neon-lit New York—or something closely resembling the city at night, alive with color and possibility. Occasionally, it plays something like a Dashiell Hammett story, where the narrative is activated by eyes, hearsay, and implication. He finds “those little moments of satisfaction where you actually find reciprocation” with someone, along with “all the shit in between.” It isn’t a romantic album, per se; rather, it focuses on people who desperately want to find romance, all set to the tune of 1980s funk, italo-disco, acid house, latin cumbia, blue-eyed soul, and more. It’s a studied, intricately composed, highly referential piece of work; not precisely collage, but certainly complicated, and never a cookie-cutter reproduction of synth-pop’s rich, endlessly playable riffs that are so often dulled down to flat, predictable artifice.

Night School’s elaborate, filmic details aren’t a new development for Palomo. Since his debut album as Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms, he has blended sounds and samples together with vivid, picturesque capability. He’s a former film student and a lifelong movie junkie, an inclination he received from his mother, a former Telemundo news anchor in San Antonio. Palomo remembers her suggesting that he watch Stanley Kubrick after the celebrated filmmaker passed away in 1999. So as an 11-year-old, Palomo devoured Kubrick’s oeuvre on Cinemax, where a retrospective of his work was airing. As a self-professed “culture vacuum” Palomo has never suffered from an anxiety of influence, but Night School is his first record where his head seems to explode out at you. It’s unquestionably his most realized and accomplished effort to date.

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