Most of you may not know who Neon Neon is. That’s ok. In today’s cluttered music scene, it’s a lot harder to spot a diamond from a turnip, and unfortunately, a lot of great bands are fortunate if they can grab a small audience let alone an audience, period. Before 2010, I had no idea who Neon Neon was either, but the names associated with it were familiar. The instrumental side of things is mostly handled by Boom Bip, an electronic musician, while Gruff Rhys, front man of the eclectic rock band Super Furry Animals, tackles the vocals. Their first album, Stainless Style, was a tightly structured concept album revolving around the rise and fall of John DeLorean (yes, that John DeLorean). The idea by itself was pretty cool, but the execution of that concept was catchy and rich with sounds that had one foot in the 80’s and the other in contemporary hip-hop. Neither element overshadowed the other, and to this day the album never gets old or overstays its welcome.
Unfortunately, it seemed that Stainless Style was more of a one-off than an indication of things to come; neither party expressed any interest in continuing to make music under the Neon Neon moniker. Imagine my shock when I realized that another album was coming down the pipeline. However, my excitement was tempered by the realization that it probably wasn’t going to emulate the Stainless Style sound too much. On top of that, the narrative behind Praxis Makes Perfect is built around a more obscure but equally intriguing figure. Giangiacomo Feltrinelli (try saying that three times as fast) was an Italian publisher who was more well-known for his political exploits (and suspicious demise) than his upper-class status. His Communist beliefs brought him into contact with Fidel Castro and Regis Debray. His willingness to publish controversial works by authors such as Boris Pasternak (author of Doctor Zhivago) and Henry Miller (author of Tropic of Cancer) were well-noted years after his death in the early 70’s.
With a person like that, it would obviously be a stretch to expect Boom Bip and Gruff Rhys to fire up those analog synthesizers and round up some guests to throw down a rap or two. Surprisingly, though, the 80’s sound is still there, but it’s not as muscular as the sounds contained in Stainless Style. Nothing explodes from the speakers the way Dream Cars did. Fortunately, the music is perfectly suited to this particular concept and the country in which Feltrinelli grew up. It sounds very much like Euro-pop; flighty at times but melancholic at heart. There are different guests this time around, but their contributions gel with the music so seamlessly that you wouldn’t know they were there. Asia Argento, a well-known actress (and daughter of horror icon Dario Argento) lends some slinky narration to most of the tracks, and Josh Klinghoffer (current guitarist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers) lends a hand on the gentle yet infectious Doctor Zhivago. Most importantly, though, the music is still very catchy.
In my opinion, it wouldn’t be detrimental to your enjoyment of Neon Neon if you listened to the debut or the sophomore album first. Stainless Style is great and Praxis Makes Perfect is good enough to stand apart from that album and shine on its own merits. Both come highly recommended.
Unfortunately, this album cannot be purchased in mp3 form on the amazon.com website. However, you can purchase the mp3s from iTunes, which includes a great bonus track (Years of Lead).