Updated: Mar 2
Where do we start when it comes to The Neighbourhood? A band that has been together for a decade, blends genres effortlessly, gained a cult following over the years (just look at their YouTube comments), and has some of the wittiest lyrics in recent memory. Led by front man Jesse Rutherford with guitarists Jeremy Freedman and Zach Abels, bassist Mikey Margott, and drummer Brandon Alexander Fried, this band is nothing short of talented. They have released four albums, multiple EP’s, a mixtape full of collabs with a wide range of rappers, and a bunch of singles. Their creative output is nothing short of amazing. The music and lyrics are moody, unapologetic, raw, and relatable. The public was introduced to them through “Sweater Weather,” which blew them up and put them on national stages like Lollapalooza and Coachella. If you only listened to that song or their first album, I Love You…, you truly missed out. They were just getting started. With every album they release, they experiment with new sounds, new collaborators, and seem to evolve as a band. What stands out about the band is not just Jesse’s lyrics, or imperfect singing but the band’s instrumentation. When you listen to most of their songs, you feel that shit (Cue “Afraid”). It might give you chills or if you are like me, hits you right in the chest.
After their third album, The Neighbourhood, it was time for a change within the band. After years and years together, that happens. In an interview with Genius, Jesse spoke of feeling like the band had to stay together for the fans. But he also revealed that quarantine gave them the time (and space) to rediscover their friendships outside of music. Their change was extreme. Out went The Neighbourhood, in came Chip Chrome and The Monotones. Chip was a journey into a fantasy world with lead singer Jesse taking on the alter ego of Chip Chrome and the rest of the band, the Monotones. According to him, Chip Chrome was a character he has been developing for years and something he was not even thinking of bringing into The Neighbourhood (pun totally intended). It is evident that Chip was inspired by the Ziggy Stardust era of David Bowie. Chip represents confidence and has a “this is who I am” attitude in physical form. In the music, he is understated but that’s where The Monotones come in, playing a crucial role in the sound and in his world. While he is a silver, technicolored eye shadowed being or as Jesse describes him, “It’s a little Hollywood Boulevard with a bit of the trailer park and a touch of Metal Mario full starpower on rainbow road!”, the Monotones are covered head to toe in black, faceless, and not distinguishable as individuals. What the hell were they thinking? This concept sounds too out there to work right? Starting in 2019, at shows and with singles like “Lost In Translation”, “Middle of Somewhere”, “Devil’s Advocate”, and “Cherry Flavoured”, the world not only got to see Chip Chrome in all his forms physically but began to hear what this new concept was all about too.
The standard version of the album, Chip Chrome and The Monotones, came out on September 25th, 2020. At 11 songs and 32 minutes, it was the shortest full-length album the band has released thus far. A little under 3 months later, on December 11th, 2020, they released the deluxe version with four additional songs on it. The album is futuristic, hypnotic, and has an infectious sound. It starts off with “Chip Chrome,” a jarring descending scale which sounds straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock film that screams “get ready for the ride.” “Pretty Boy” is a song driven by the locomotive cadence of percussion, interspersed with guitar licks, and a chance to see Chip’s vocals shine. It is romantic and moody with an underlying uneasiness to it. “Lost In Translation”, sampling the song “Wish That You Were Mine” by The Manhattans, is about miscommunication, being frustrated with not being understood or heard, but still tending to being drawn to toxic situations. It explores the internal and external struggles that go along with not being able to communicate effectively with your partner. Themes that just about every person you know can relate to. The song is funky, and the video adds to that, with the band performing in a disco ball while Chip’s alien girlfriend (played by real life girlfriend Devon Lee Carlson) laughs and dances throughout. Throw in a contagious harmony & solid background vocals and both make the song even better. Just as you feel like you have gotten over the first hill of the rollercoaster ride, “Devil’s Advocate” comes roaring in. Along with a great guitar riff throughout, this song has so many lyrics that make you say, “what did he just say?!” in the best way possible. “If you close your eyes, that’s where you will find me.” “Same ticket for the rent, but I split it with a dime piece.” “Married to my friends, they don’t always like me, stick together for the kids, you gotta do the right thing.” Have you ever felt this way about your friends? We all have at some point, right? Or my personal favorite “If a God is a dog and a man is a fraud, then I’m a lost cause.” This is Jesse saying that if everything is bullshit, then who the hell am I? We are all trying to figure out what is real, what is not, and what makes us genuinely happy in life. A lot of us are trying to figure out who the fuck we are. This song embodies all of that and more. The video for the song even has a bunch of cool references that you might catch. Like when Chip does an NSYNC* inspired dance as he sings “Sellin what you buy, buy, buy, just a product of the 90’s”. Can you tell this song is one of my favorites off the album? “Hell or High Water” is short, has tinges of country, but an overall folksy feel to it. You can hear the Johnny Cash influence on the sound and lyrics. It touches on the ups and downs you go through in life, with people, and picking yourself up when you fall. Nearing the mid-point of the album, we come across “Cherry Flavoured”. It is a song about being intrigued by someone, wanting to know more, but also wanting to cut through all the sugar coating and face reality. Maybe you are the person who needs to stop sugar coating. Maybe it is somebody you know. It is dark, slow, and soothing with a constant guitar and falsetto backup vocals. Sweet with dreary undertones. Remember when I talked about music making you feel that certain kind of way? This is one of those songs. The video is animated, an extraterrestrial journey within itself, and entertaining. “BooHoo” touches on dealing with insecurities about yourself, who you are with, and trying to be comfortable with the attention that your partner gets from others. Even when your significant other does not care about the attention (“She knows that she’s magic, doesn’t worry about her status”), no matter how hard we try, we still get insecure about it. It can make us jealous, worry, and search for affirmation that we are worth being with. This song juggles those insecurities, realizations, and everything in between. Lines like “Call her Alexander cause I treat her like my queen” fall on the witty side. If you did not catch the reference at first like me, he is referring to fashion icon Alexander McQueen and uses “my queen” as a homonym for “McQueen.” Don’t let these lines go over your head. “Silver Lining” was a sleeper that grew on me when the deluxe version came out. It has a sun-drenched sound and classic feel to it. It is about impending change, darkness, uncertainty, and seeing it through (“You told them they could believe in you, Now you just gotta believe it too”). Part of that is seeing the light through the dark clouds and having hope even when you are at your worst. Next up is “Tobacco Sunburst”, which is a beautiful song. Chip’s vocals on this track and “Middle of Somewhere” truly stand out. It is less about the lyrics and more about the range he takes his voice to. The notes he hits and how well his voice sounds with the Monotones instrumentation are noticeable in both, especially “Tobacco Sunburst.” The song is a slow burner, has a country-bluesy influence, and a cello solo that gives the listener a moment of clarity. I had to listen to it many times to truly appreciate it. “Middle of Somewhere” rounds out the album and is all guitar & vocals. It cuts out the noise, showcases the vocals, and acoustic/electric guitar licks are interwoven throughout.
Blessing their loyal listeners with eleven quality songs was enough. The band decided to gift us four more that were an extension of the greatness of this album: “Here We Go Again,” “Over The Influence,” “The Shining,” and “Stargazing.” “Here We Go Again” is a slow song with harmonizing background vocals that is a defiant response to the political nature of the US. Every line in here is a response to our former 45th president (“You say you want it to be great again, but it was never that way to begin with”), how disgusted he is with his actions, and the general state of our country. The Neighbourhood manages to give you a little bit of everything in an album, don’t they? “The Shining” touches on not feeling good enough to be with your partner (“You got a heart of gold and mine is always broken.”). It is drowning, hits hard, and is another one of my favorites on this album. The lines in this song deal with a longing for being enough, seeing the light in your partner, and trying not to dim that light because of your own baggage and bullshit. When you see how amazing your partner is, sometimes you look at yourself and say “Well, what am I? Am I deserving of this person? Do they deserve better than the person I am?” This song tackles that and every part of this song puts you in your feels, whether it’s the chorus, vocals, or the complementing guitar throughout. The first song on the deluxe, Stargazing, is the best song on the album in my opinion. I love this fucking song. It is about the feeling of being completely head over heels in love with somebody. Do you know that feeling? If you had to put it into a song, “Stargazing” is that song. Being in love is exciting, a rollercoaster of emotions, and there is something electric about it. Much like the album, the song is absolutely infectious, and the chorus might never stop replaying in your head. It’s that fucking good. There’s a build-up throughout the first verse then the chorus makes the whole song explode (Ooh-ooh, baby, You take me on a ride, Gonna drive me crazy, Ooh-ooh, baby, I feel like we've made it pretty far, Now we're stargazing”). I could write an article itself on the greatness that is “Stargazing,” but I would rather you listen to it for yourself and see. The video gives the song a whole different meaning and has a theme of overcoming self-doubt, rejection, and the persistence of making your dreams a reality. It has some random cameos from Jaden Smith, Lana Del Rey, Benny Blanco, Blake Griffin, and other celebrities. That says a lot about just how respected the band is throughout the industry. “Stargazing” made me listen to the album repeatedly, which in turn made me fall in love with this album as a whole.
Chip Chrome And The Monotones was a great body of work. It is what fans of the Neighbourhood expect from them: experimentation, vulnerability, seriousness, and introspective. But it is a mature evolution for the band and their lead singer, Jesse. The album is a peek into his struggles but through the eyes of his persona, Chip Chrome. We get a third person view into his relationship issues, life issues, and his battles within himself. They experiment throughout this album and go places they have not gone before. It explores more genres than their previous works, which is remarkable for a band who is genre defying at this point. It is more vulnerable than ever with an overall cohesive feel and themes throughout. The lyrics are as witty as ever and the songwriting is some of the strongest in their catalog. It is evident by the instrumentation that the drummer, Brandon, and guitarists Jeremy, Zach, & Mikey have only gotten better with time. The percussion and guitar compliment the singing throughout this album well. The talent of all five of these guys is undeniable and endless. I slept on songs from this album. Some of them had to grow on me. After a year of listening to the deluxe and over a year of listening to the original, this album is easily my favorite album from The Neighbourhood.
Live New Years performance of Stargazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jh4S4kjhzkc
Jesse’s podcast, “Patients” Therapy Records, where he (and other members) speaks on multiple songs off the album: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/patients/id1525762666