The Neighbors have a weird place in the Provo music scene. They’re a brother/sister duo that plays indie pop, and when I say “pop”, I mean radio pop from 1999. Adam and Rachel Kaiser are two extremely talented multi-instrumentalists who can write songs and put on a good show. They’re a modern Donnie & Marie or an American Sandy & Junior. Rachel regularly tours with Brandon Flowers (lead singer of the Killers) as one of his backup singers, and that connection to fame has done a lot to boost the Neighbors’ popularity. These two also won the genetic lottery, and everyone likes looking at pretty people. But they do have the talent to back it up, and that’s exactly what I’ll judge them for.
Last night they played a show with Toy Bombs and Chasing Kings, back from LA, and Michael Gross & the Statuettes from Salt Lake. The first 100 people to the show received a free copy of The Neighbors EP, their first release. If you click anywhere on this sentence, you can go to their site to listen to samples and buy the EP yourself. I received a copy then promptly told Adam I was going to review it (because I crave attention). I hadn’t seen the Neighbors before and possibly never would have if they hadn’t played with two of my favorite bands who should ditch LA and just stay in Provo. But I’m an attention whore who loves the opportunity to be the first to review the recorded music of a fairly popular band, and by golly I’m going to do it. (Note: I have been corrected on this point, as apparently this EP came out awhile ago.)
The Neighbors describe themselves as an “indie piano rock band”, but this is a Pop record, through and through. The opening song, “Rusafie”, would fit snuggly into the middle of a Britney Spears album circa 2002. That’s in large part thanks to Rachel’s voice, which reminds me of those old teen pop princesses. She’s the right age to have idolized them in her youth(an unfortunate plague on my generation), and sometimes that influence never escapes. (I just can’t help but right songs with subtle Limp Bizkit idiosyncrasies.)
Luckily Adam’s rock influences help balance out the record and keep it completely out of “bubblegum” territory. “Fizzy Fizzy Girl” is very catchy, but it’s in a minor key with plenty of accidentals. A lot of their songs are a lot darker than people might give them credit for. The lyrics aren’t dark. But the music itself is somewhat chaotic. “Gypsies” is full of dissonant Jazz chords and countermelodies, an impressive feat with their minimal instrumentation. Even though it was written by Sarah Blanchet (according to the liner notes), it fits right in with the rest of the record.
Maybe my favorite song on the EP, “I’ll Find You” is a more lighthearted affair, with Adam on lead vocals and Rachel as backup. It’s a rainy day song from another era. An ode to an ex-girlfriend, in somber nostalgia. And it’s the only song that taps into the constant sibling teasing they have on stage, with Rachel laughing at the end, telling her brother that he’s “never gonna find anyone”.
“Wake Up” returns to familiar territory. I can hear Destiny’s Child on this track, escaping Rachel’s childhood and affecting her modern songwriting. With lyrics like…
Girl, just be yourself and do what’s right. It’s better not to listen to the outside.
…it’s hard not to think of those old songs from 10 years past. It’s a very short song, clocking in at just over two minutes, and segues nicely into “I Wanna Know”, a true duet where the Neighbors really get a signature sound down. If Adam and Rachel could clone themselves, this song would be the result. It has duel keyboard tracks, drums, bass, and Rachel sings a harmony with herself. Just as the album is ending, I feel like I’ve discovered what the Neighbors are all about. It’s not an homage to millennial pop music, but a sincere songwriting effort by two talented musicians.
The Neighbors put on a very exciting live show, but this record shows that they could use more members. The full sound of “I Wanna Know” is more cohesive than their live effort, where instruments come and go, often awkwardly. Even something as simple as a steady keyboardist would allow the Kaisers to play their drums and bass, and I should note that Adam and Rachel are a really good drummer and bassist, respectively, two of the best I’ve seen in Provo. But if they really want to earn that “rock” in “indie piano rock”, they’d benefit from one or two more members.
The production on the EP is very clean, but not spectacular. Adam was apologetic when handing me a copy, saying he recorded it rather quickly in their basement. It’s too digital, with electronic keyboards and muted drums. Give the Neighbors a real piano and let the drums ring loudly, and then we’d have something truly special. The guitarist in me is also dying that there isn’t any guitar on the EP, but that’s not the music they choose to play.
The Neighbors aren’t revolutionizing music any time soon. They write the songs they want to write, and those happen to be pop songs and little ballads. Dark but fun. Their music is accessible, but they feel like an anomaly in the Provo scene, avoiding Folk and Rock influences. Even Seve Vs. Evan, another piano/drums duo, has a completely different sound. I appreciate that about them: at least they don’t sound like anyone else in town.
Personally, I think that The Neighbors EP is a very good record. Clocking it at just under 19 minutes, it gets its ideas across and never tires out. I love “I’ll Find You” and “I Wanna Know” and will listen to them regularly, but the rest of the EP is just too… mainstream for my massive, pretentious ego to properly enjoy.
Oh yeah, and guys, I like the album art, but…
…this is the ugliest damn font I’ve ever seen.