Neon Trees are a band in the halcyon days of their so-far miniscule musical empire; able, for now, to fend off all the depressing criticisms and realities that every breakout band must endure before achieving the kind of lasting success that so few bands attain. For instance, overzealous fans, being misinterpreted musically or lyrically, “selling out,” being alternatively praised constantly and then told you suck worse than any band in the history of musical expression, etc.
Right now, every face in the crowd is smiling, every fan knows the words and every door is an opportunity. They are big enough to make waves, but not big enough to draw serious fire from those who think the neo-eighties Depeche Mode model of songwriting died when The Bravery gave it a cigarette and a blindfold and shot it through the heart. They are, in fact, a bit too late and their genre does to a degree, have a bad name.
Which is already a misinterpretation, isn’t it? Neon Trees are so frequently identified as belonging to that neo-eighties style that it is, as yet, taken as a truth. Perhaps what will be most worrisome for them is not when someone calls them on their throwback sensibilities, but when someone, more appropriately, compares their songwriting to the likes of those who churn out hits for Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. Their album Habits is teenie-pop at its purest — candy which is merely coated in a thin layer of The Cure.
Drummer Elaine Bradley was once identifiable in the Provo and Salt Lake music scene by her simply-adorned good looks, but is now ostentatiously clad and in leather and gigantic sunglasses. She has said on the band’s website that so far one of her favorite things about the band is that all the fans sing along to all of the songs. Will this adoration from fans always be enough to keep the blood pumping, especially as their supporters appear to be younger and younger?
Neon Trees are, in terms of genre, in a position where critics actually matter, where Pitchfork and Stereogum have real influence. Their preteen pop kin like Swift are immune from this kind of Internet chatter because their records sell no matter who says what about them.
This may not be true for a band that is trying to walk the razor thin precipice between neo-eighties indie and straight-up teenie pop. If and when these kinds of sites come down unfavorably, or if and when the word of mouth turns from “Listen to this slick new act,” to “Man, that song is boring now,” how will they respond?
Hopefully by owning it. There is no denying that there is a catchy, if juvenile, side to their style, demonstrable on the ubiquitous track “Animal” that is gaining so much attention and lends itself to being sung with brush in hand. If they want to survive their freshman year, they need to own up to and embrace vocally their position as the version of Ke$ha that is friendly to the ears of our middle school’s hipster-larvae. We may need less of these kinds of bands, but we need them nonetheless. Here’s to hoping these former residents of Provo are one of the survivors of this particular musical battle.