Nonetheless Neon Dreams itself also doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, or exactly what audience it has its sights set on. Split down the middle between full vocal tracks and bite-sized instrumentals, it's not quite a pop album. But with the average track hovering around three-and-a-half minutes, it's not a dance album either. Thankfully, even if L-Vis might have sacrificed some of his "underground" cred, he certainly hasn't lost any of his deft dexterity. These are tight and professional tracks cut down to the bone—even if there's something impersonal about the dramatic synths and huge drums of "Illusions" or the beefed-up synthpop of "True Romance."
The instrumentals are the album's most worthwhile moments, but they're also inescapably slight. Highlights like "The Beach"—a sunny send-up of Instra:mental's sleaze-house anthem "Let's Talk"—feel like they don't really belong here, there or anywhere, a few minutes of kinda-dancey beats on an album that flounders in a contextual void.
It's the vocal tunes where Neon Dreams really starts to come apart. On "Tonight," he builds a stunning bed of boogie basslines and chugging sequencers for a no-name singer who sounds fatally disinterested. The songwriting isn't really there either: inane lyrics abound and melodies feel unfinished or amateurish ("Lost in Love"). It's a shame, because when everything does come together the potential seems stunning; EP holdover "Forever You" drops Shads' smooth vocals into an equally buttery backdrop. The Night Slugs connection comes back full-force for album standout "I Feel It," which has all the rolling rhythms and irresistible elasticity of the label's best.
It's moments like those that make Neon Dreams more of a disappointment than it should be. It's still a solid album with generally something for everyone to appreciate. But it's also a little generic, and when you're one half of the duo that founded one of the most lauded labels of the past two years, that's the last thing you want to be.
Mon / 3 Oct 2011
01. Vague Flashes feat. Corey Black
02. Forever You feat. Javeon McCarthy
03. The Beach
04. I Feel It
05. Play It Cool feat. Samantha Lim
06. Shy Light feat. Para One & Teki Latex
08. Feel the Void feat. Para One & Teki Latex
11. Here with You feat. Para One & Teki Latex
12. Lost in Love feat. Javeon McCarthy
13. True Romance
14. One More Day feat. Javeon McCarthy & Julio Bashmore
15. Neon Dreams