Nathan Felix‘s Neon Heaven is not your typical Independent Clauses fare: Felix, the mastermind behind indie rock outfit The Noise Revival Orchestra, actually composes for orchestra (and travels the world doing it). Neon Heaven expands on his symphony debut, The Curse The Cross & The Lion, by including a towering choir.
If you’re a little nervous at this point, don’t be: even though “Love Song for Anita” starts out with gigantic choral harmonies, there’s a section around 5:30 in to the piece where Felix takes it down all the way to a plunking piano and glockenspiel. It sounds like a Lullatone piece, which is remarkably cool on its own and even cooler in contrast to the traditional orchestral structure around it. Felix may not be fronting an indie rock band here, but he can’t resist turning a whole orchestra into an indie rock outfit temporarily.
He does the same thing on “Harmonious Harlot,” where a syncopated piano and vocal line intertwine to create an ominous, wiry vibe that sounds strikingly like something you might expect to come out of a Bloc Party album. It gets even more exciting once the vocals split into multiple lines, punctuated by huge horn blasts and interwoven with harp. All this to say, don’t be afraid of this album because it’s a choral symphony. There’s a lot to be thrilled about if you’re a person whose classical music influences don’t extend farther than (or as far as) Sufjan or Joanna Newsom’s explorations.
The charms continue throughout: the beautiful cello/oboe combo in “Mistress of Mistrust” must be noted, along with the remarkable cello solo that starts out “The Sword and the Throne.” The piano-heavy “Phantasmagoria” is a peaceful respite among the highly dramatic work. The harp, which appears throughout, gets its moment in the memorable interlude “Dreamsicle.” There are some more thoroughly orchestral moments (the stomping “Dungeon of Versailles” sounds fully like what you might imagine from a giant orchestra), but in general, this is an orchestra that sounds like it was written by someone who’s up with the current trends.
Neon Heaven is not your usual listening, almost certainly. But in its 40 minutes, Neon Heaven holds many distinct charms, beautiful moments, and memorable sections. If you’re an adventurous listener, you should definitely check out Neon Heaven whenever you can. If you’re in Austin, there will be a listening party for the record at the Museum of Human Achievement on Saturday at 8 p.m., and I encourage you to go.