L.A Girlfriend consists of solo artist Sydney Banta, her recent work being what she describes as “Romanic Noveau“. Her work presents itself as an emotional vocal forefront onto a electronic-synth based backdrop. The new LP Neon Grey takes on a considerably darker vein than her previous album Viva.
Banta places the LP to be more of an internal piece, rather a “story of consequences” which would represent a self-reflective tone, in contrast to her first LP which was more about “being reactionary to people places, and time“. Viva therefore is a more cheerful album, upbeat and closer to pop than her new work Neon Grey.
Neon Grey begins with an intro track called “Welcome To the Abyss” – its title here exemplifying the emotional theme that underlies all of the synth-pop styled tracks on the album. The intro itself is an echoed electronic track, featuring more haunting vocals to emphasise Banta’s ‘lonely heart’.
The track also foreshadows Banta’s blunt lyrical style, she certainly lays her emotions out on the line sometimes and this is reflected in some later tracks which express bitter feelings towards an ex-flame. This introductory dark tone resonates through the whole album as does the repetitive drum beat and synth.
The second track on the LP “XIV” gradually builds into a solid drum beat paving way for a more dance tempo than its trance-like prelude. Banta uses a repetitive chorus throughout the track to paint the vivid imagery – “cut it out with no hands, bleed it out with no hands” – presumably singing about the person she describes as a “cancer“. The sheer contrast here lies between the dark, painful lyrical imagery and the house-like beat.
With a slightly slower tempo (although still pitched alongside a similar drum beat), “Monsters of Habit“, backed by a heavier guitar, perhaps illustrates her musical influences from bands such as Iron Maiden. This is also more prevalent in the seventh song on the LP “Swoon“, where the bassline drives the song’s progression. Banta’s 80’s influences are also reflected in her vocal tone, mirroring the huskier deep female vocalists such as Debbie Harry and Courtney Love.
Banta states her music also stems from the influence of New Order, which is predominant throughout the album. However her new wave style does create the trap of over-synthesized production, where some layering is lost within the songs. Efforts to make the tracks distorted can be a detriment to the album at times.
More stripped back songs such as “Tattoos & Chambray” provide a cleaner cut sound. The track also allows more vocal confidence to drive the sound and melody. Where tracks such as “Monsters Of Habit” and “Swoon” are somewhat overwhelmed by such distortion from her post-punk style, tracks like “Little Do I know” allow Banta’s lyrical fragility to do more of the talking.
For me, the most striking track is the final one on the LP “Subliminal Fantastic”. Taking on a more upbeat tone, a more simplistic production allows for a smoother sound and exposes Banta’s vocal capability and indicates a more story-telling like theme. The song is very similar to her previous work, and provides a stronger structure, perhaps showing this pop-like style is where Banta excels most.
Although it must be acknowledged that L.A Girlfriend has been risky and different with LP Neon Grey, the darker approach towards the album does illuminate some weaknesses. The album treads dangerously close to sounding over-produced which masks the raw-lyrical emotion that the album strives to represent.
The LP does however express the woes of heartbreak and internal struggles like its post-punk new wave predecessors, but L.A Girlfriend sounds less comfortable in what she is producing. In an attempt to expose and develop a darker side to her music, some of her confidence has been lost. L.A Girlfriend’s Neon Grey is out now via Bantakat, purchase it for any amount on Bandcamp here.
Words by Becky Spear