Abram Shook - The Neon Machine [LP]
The Neon Machine, the fourth album from Austin musician Abram Shook, is a dystopian
dance party, and everyone's invited. Juxtaposed against 2017's sepia-tinged, quietly
reflective Love at Low Speed, the new record's mix of irresistible beats and slyly humorous lyrics might seem like a 180 at first glance: a giddy, knowing soundtrack to the end
of the world. Those familiar with Shook's previous work, however, understand that he has
always explored his own brand of off-kilter funk, from the soulful swagger of his debut
album's standout single ''Coastal'' through Low Speed's Prince-inspired ''Lies''. The varied
influences of world music and jazz that are present in all his records can still be heard (as
in the High-Life inspired guitar work on ''My Money''), though here Shook tucks them into
the corners and uses them in more subtle ways, giving center stage to a vintage Sequential Circuits Prophet 600, a drum sequencer, and his signature rubbery bass lines. In
Shook's adept hands, The Neon Machine is full of day-glo danceability even though
something slightly sinister lurks beneath the surface; it's a kind of tour de force synesthesia for the fevered mind.
With this record, Shook has traded in his usual gimlet-eyed observations for a playfully
cynical sense of humor: ''I play the game where I drink you off my mind/It never works,
but I love to try/And I can go all night,'' he sings on ''Cocaine Blonde''. Using highly
confessional lyrics and deeply personal insight to convey his anger, with the current
political climate, he writes candidly about his anxieties, and frustrations toward a country
and culture that he's grown up with, but hasn't always felt at home in. Every line seems to
have a double meaning, and once you start to unlock the code - that every reference to
a drug or a lover is actually a metaphor for the United States - they become even darker
and more biting, and, for people who are also unhappy with the state of the world, very
Full of Prince-esque riffs, Blood Orange-style beats, and David Bowie allusions, The Neon
Machine is accessible and adventurous at once. It has as its backdrop a party that's lasted
too long, and the foreground of a narrator full of anxiety and skepticism whose hangover
has already begun. The beauty of it lies in its malleability. What appears on the surface to
be an effervescent album of pop anthems, with its familiar themes of sex, love and drugs,
soon reveals its true heart: the intimate insights of a man, long accustomed to being an
outside observer, who has decided to join the fray. ''In a lot of ways it feels like the record
I've always wanted to make.''
1. Neon Love 2. Your Time 3. Cocaine Blonde 4. Future Hustler 5. My Money 6. Visionary Fiction 7. Can't Get Away 8. Sugar Teeth 9. The Latest Trend 10. Hot Mess 11. Fake It
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