Creating a concept album is an ambitious feat, but when done right, the end result has the potential to be stunning. Who better to attempt it than The Neighbourhood? The band’s new album, Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones (2020), follows frontman Jesse Rutherford shedding his preexisting persona and slipping seamlessly into the entirely new character of Chip Chrome, with his bandmates becoming The Mono-Tones. The character of Chip Chrome serves as a more ostentatious representation of Rutherford and stars in all of the lyric and music videos for this era of The Neighbourhood. Given this underlying story arc, the album has an undeniable cinematic quality to it and comprises a sonic kaleidoscope of eclectic songs.
The introductory track, “Chip Chrome,” sets the album’s tone using a cacophonous descending scale with a futuristic aesthetic. Those thirty seconds prime listeners to step through a looking glass and enter Rutherford’s mind. The second track, “Pretty Boy,” shines a spotlight on his crooning vocals as he sings a romantic ballad with a foreboding tone. The locomotive cadence of the percussion gently tugs the song along, giving it a hypnotic quality and transforming it into a gothic lullaby of sorts: “Even if the Earth starts shaking / You’re the only thing worth taking, ooh, with me / Even if the sky’s on fire / Got you here, it’s alright, ooh, with me.” And, since it wouldn’t be a true The Neighbourhood song without a sonic twist thrown in, the song culminates with a shrill scream that contrasts the demure tone of that which came before.
The scream is a clever segue into the next track, which delves into a wholly different genre compared to “Pretty Boy.” “Lost in Translation” is a charismatic blend of jazz influences and pop elements that showcases the alluring versatility of Rutherford’s vocals. In an interview with Apple Music, Jesse notes that in incorporating the beat switch at the opening of the song, “I feel like it’s what this band has been trying to do from the inception of the whole project—mixing all of these genres together.” Glittering background vocals and infectious harmonies in the chorus complement the sci-fi and cosmic feel of the song’s overall sound.
Though it is a tricky task to fuse multiple genres into an album and even into individual songs, The Neighbourhood achieves that goal with ease. The album is an electric amalgamation of different sounds blending fluidly, but also has common themes and messages that make it cohesive in a grander sense. Several of the songs explore the substantial changes occurring in Rutherford’s life and the internal realizations that have arisen from them: the band’s contract with Columbia ending, his evolving relationships with old friends, social issues, and more. Chip Chrome & the Mono-Tones is a way for Rutherford to express and work through these topics in a creative way, and the songs are just as dynamic as these issues.
“Hell or High Water” has a delicate country twang to it, and the lyrics read as a poignant ode to life’s ups and downs and the personal growth that comes from picking yourself up when you fall: “I went through Hell, to get to high water / And now I’m tryin’ not to drown / Each time I fail, it makes me try harder / I’ll reach the stars next time around.” The mellow strumming, staticky quality, and the whistling in the outro give the song a sentimental feel, saturating the song in nostalgia.
Several songs within The Neighbourhood’s discography explore Rutherford’s relationship with his long-term girlfriend, Devon Lee Carlson. Carlson also plays Cherry Chrome, Chip Chrome’s love interest, in the music videos for this album. Songs like “Single” from their 2015 album, Wiped Out!, and “Scary Love” from their 2018 album, Hard To Imagine The Neighbourhood Ever Changing, come to mind. However, the songs on Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones about their relationship feel more mature and introspective. In “BooHoo,” whose dancier, synth-pop production creates yet another genre shift within the album, Jesse reflects on insecurities within his relationship: “You hate it when I overreact / I wish I didn’t act like that / I always feel under attack / You keep telling me to relax.”
The album’s final three tracks offer some of the strongest songwriting in The Neighbourhood’s extensive catalog. “Tobacco Sunburst” is reminiscent of early 2000s Coldplay (e.g. “Green Eyes” and “Sparks”), with a subtle melancholy mood conveyed through the minor chord progressions and the soft vocals. The vintage, sun-drenched sound of “Silver Lining” and “Middle of Somewhere” exudes a tender and nostalgic warmth. “Middle of Somewhere,” the final track, gives the album’s story a brilliant stopping point, and cues a new era for Rutherford in his personal life as he continues to change and mature: “Always running away / Looking for an escape / Everyone is an alien / When you’re trying to find your place.”
Over the years, The Neighbourhood has consistently proved that they are capable of experimenting with different genres and sounds to produce gorgeous albums, and this one is no different. Chip Chrome & The Mono-Tones seems like the pinnacle of their capabilities thus far, considering its emotional depth and extensive sonic dimensions. They have demonstrated once again that their talent is limitless and that they still have a few surprises up their sleeves.
VOICE’S CHOICES: “Pretty Boy,” “Tobacco Sunburst,” “Middle of Somewhere”