Five years after the release of its first album, “I Love You.,” The Neighbourhood made public its one-year plan of releasing a spate of songs, the focus of which is its fourth full-length album, “Hard to Imagine The Neighbourhood Ever Changing.” Having become a fan of the band after it released its third album, it was exciting for me to open the iTunes page of the band and find a new list of songs on its already wonderful page.
The American alternative pop band began its career with a “wow” moment. “Sweater Weather,” the lead single of its debut studio album, quickly reached No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative Songs chart in June 2013, followed by Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive,” and achieved 11 nonconsecutive weeks at the top of the chart.
This promising start, however, did not bring the band lasting attention or superstardom. Throughout its career, many promising signs of imminent superstardom have only left the band stranded on the edge of creating another cultural moment, never quite hitting the mark and reaching the peak of its stardom again. The Neighbourhood has accumulated millions of views and streams on YouTube and Spotify and it has also brought Travis Scott, The 1975 and Kevin Abstract on its previous American tours. Despite this, it remains a relative unknown in the mainstream music world.
One explanation is that the band fails to project a consistent identity. The five members, who formed the band in 2011 as alt-rock group, stood out because of their incorporation of hip-hop and electronic elements. Since, they have experimented with no shortage of musical styles, from rhythm and blues and cloud rap to indie, just to name a few. All these attempts end up being just that — attempts to rekindle the magic of “Sweater Weather” from years ago. No particular style has become a signature or come to define what The Neighborhood does as a band.
A constant search for identity might be a way for the five members to avoid facing who they are or to hide who they may be. The opening song on the first album, “How,” expresses pessimism with questions like “Why would you tell me that it’s fate / When they laughed at me, every day, in my face?” The repetition of “When I wake up I’m afraid, somebody else might take my place,” on “Afraid” extends this sense of hopelessness established early on. On the following song, “Everybody’s Watching Me (Uh Oh),” Rutherford startlingly asks “Where can I go? / Everybody’s watching me” as insecurity and fear resurface.
Appearing in such frequency, the self-doubt the band experienced in 2013 needs to be considered seriously. In a September 2018 interview with Coup de Main Magazine, drums and percussion player Brandon Fried jokingly said that “The best [songs] you vomit out.” This observation, combined with how the band only started getting more into the songwriting process for its newest album, might suggest that the members wrote their hits too quickly in their early career. The members received attention before they were ready and before they had a chance to first deal with their issues.
Five years later, it appears the band is still on the long path of discovering itself. The incredible length of its latest album at 21 songs, with a breadth of styles, attests to this. Last year’s blistering Pitchfork review, which Rutherford recalled reading, implied that the band’s music is yet a work in progress.
Nevertheless, The Neighbourhood has at least found more maturity. With each member in their mid-20s, the band members believe their past works have only been steps in their growth. They define themselves and their music as ever-changing, and their projects have all been a learning experience toward greater heights.
Eight years of being in the music industry also taught the band how to adapt to changing landscapes. A theme the members kept bringing up in interviews is the short attention span of internet users. The Neighbourhood is, therefore, picking up its pace to produce more songs and try to have a social media moment. The variety of songs on “Hard to Imagine” might have been partly intended to draw in a wider range of listeners to expand its relatively small fan base.
It is refreshing to see that, in the face of many negative reviews, the band chooses to walk forward on its path, this time with greater confidence. “I got nothing to prove / Nothing to you” and “I’ma still make millions when this music fade / Reinvent every time the music change,” lyrics from “Livin’ In a Dream,” are both testaments to the band’s increasing positivity. The Neighbourhood consistently grows and changes as it experiments with new genres and projects. Whether The Neighbourhood’s attempts at creativity will advance its popularity and fanbase, though, remains to be seen.
Ellie Yang is a junior in the College. This is the final installment of Record Rewind.