Neon Trees flaunts all the attributes of the next breakout band. Couple a female drummer steeped in heavy eye makeup with a lead singer who rarely hawks his Mohawk, frame them with a guitarist on either side, and wait for the crowds to come roaring.
With the March 16 release of their debut record, “Habits,” the band, from Provo, Utah, packs a rush of emotion and fiery imagery into a mere eight-song-album lasting just short of half an hour. Lead vocalist and keyboardist Tyler Glenn, drummer and vocalist Elaine Bradley, guitarist Chris Allen and bass player Branden Campbell blend alternative and pop music and combine classic rock energy with a pumped-up beat fit for a dance floor.
While the exact meaning behind the album’s title, “Habits,” isn’t easily deciphered, the first few lines of the opening song, “Sins of my Youth” hint at it: “I’ve got these habits that I cannot/I’ve got these habits that I can’t/I’ve got these habits that I cannot break.”
The song repeats remnants of these lines throughout as it discusses living recklessly with a dangerous affinity for fun with part nostalgia and part regret. It unravels Glenn’s personal experience exploring his past and uncovering the truth about himself.
However, like so many up-and-coming young rock groups, Neon Trees’ medley of songs echoes the age-old qualms of growing up. The band’s lyrics seem brooding and regurgitate the exhausted themes underscoring heartbreak, rebellion, regret, and the constant battle to figure out the way of the world – particularly when everything seems to be falling to pieces.
Take track two, “Love and Affection,” for example, where Glenn cries out, “I just don’t understand why my love isn’t good enough/I just don’t understand why my love isn’t good enough/For you.” The song draws on an acute adolescent fear of rejection laid to rest only through time – a fear that has been pricked and prodded and dissected by the music industry again and again in a kind of been there, done that fashion.
The band’s lyrics don’t undermine its work as a whole, but they do undermine its originality and distinction from other groups of its kind.
The song that’s catching ears and may very well propel the group to mainstream status, however, comes in the form of lead single and third track “Animal,” a fitting title for the angst and tension from its start to its end. It delves into what appears to be a back-and-forth, on-and-off relationship cannibalistically feeding on its abrupt series of starts and stops: “Here we go again/I kinda wanna be more than friends/So take it easy on me/ I’m afraid you’re never satisfied.”
For such weighted words, the song takes on an airy tone, complete with handclapping in the background.
The record strikes its final note with a particularly somber tune, “Our War,” detailing the story of a very painful breakup with lyrics like “I wanna say I’m on my own/And happier to be alone/But everything I do alone/Has every bit of you.” The song moves slowly from opening dialogue about the transition between the carefree nature of childhood and the stark reality of adulthood into lyrics about overcoming the deepest of heartaches.
“Habits” as a whole carries a steady beat that connects each song with a sort of pulse. Although the members of Neon Trees still need to work on creating their own image, their debut album suggests the group is sure to grow.