Visit Neptune’s debut album, Life as a Hypnotist, a follow-up to the well-received 2019 EP Blurred, marks the start of an explosive bright decade for this burgeoning band. Unwilling to relinquish the roots of rock n’ roll, like so many of the “indie” rock artists in the 2010s shifting into quiet electronics, Visit Neptune uses their modest ten tracks to showcase a wide range of musical talent to usher in a new decade of rock.
Firing on all cylinders with WHO OR WHAT IS IRMA?, Life as a Hypnotist’s energetic opening comes with hints of Arctic Monkeys that bleed into the pumping rock n’ roll similar to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Henriksen’s bass pushes the listener into the next three tracks with Alexander’s almost harmonizing percussion, reminiscent of Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins. These four musicians feel like apologists for every work of rock n’ roll art. By the end of Cocoon Games, the listener feels comfortable with the rock soundscape.
But it’s Stage 5, the album’s second track, which only briefly departs the all-out rock-quartet energy of IRMA, that shows Visit Neptune’s promise for evolution. Within the first four seconds of the song, a musical call-back to the acid and surf rock of the late 1960s that seamlessly blends the 80s flashy new wave with the fundamental mid-90s grunge that has paved the way for 21st century rock musicians, never at the cost of the band’s complete synergy, as Henriksen and Alexander conduct the flow of music with steady rhythmic beats. Visit Neptune shows that they are pulling from a wide range of inspirations, that their work will twist the formula of modern rock without betraying its many origins.
Much like Henriksen and Alexander, Bailey’s precise guitar playing frequently accentuates Buchanan’s vocals, not unlike Albert Hammond, Jr. to Julian Casablancas. Say No’s infectious melody switches are a testament to Bailey’s tremendous talent and Buchanan’s effortless accompaniment. In Cocoon Games, it’s easy to fall into the chorus with the catchy, repetitive riffs, becoming essentially hypnotized, which shows that Visit Neptune are very self-aware and know what they are doing. As soon as the listener is under their hypnotic spell, Buchanan tips his hat to an audience that’s not underestimated in their own knowledge of the history of rock n’ roll, saying, “Your story sorta kinda reminds me of a song I know I’ve heard.” Buchanan’s lyrics often look to draw a line in the sand, whether it serves as a rift between former lovers in Say No or Vacant Rooms or as a philosophical barrier between musical artists and musical practitioners. Buchanan playfully sings in Forbidden Things, “Fuck the other kids and their popsicle sticks,” both embracing Visit Neptune’s own youth while also confident in their maturity to take music forward in 2020. It’s on this verge of introducing classic ideas from earlier, honored generations of music while transcending the lazy musical tropes that stuck around from one-hit-wonder iteration after iteration since the mid-70s.
That’s not to say that Visit Neptune only lives in the past. That Dark Electric embraces the haunting vocals and measured use of guitar FX heard so much in the 2010s, but here it appears in the second half of the album, like Visit Neptune is aging its own sound to show they’re not too late to the party. Alexander relinquishes the drums, letting Henriksen create a translucent but prominent beat the doesn’t pulse, but throbs, while Alexander plays support with very limited use of sound effects on keyboard. Buchanan taunts the listener with the first haunting word, “Cacophony,” but the airy quality of That Dark Electric betrays that expectation. Visit Neptune isn’t concerned with what an audience wants in their music, but rather how the audience feels. And while it’s easy for the audience to let the music wash over them like a hypnotic lullaby, the final line has Buchanan again winking at whoever’s listening, feeling like an “unknown face in an unknown sea.”
Life as a Hypnotist
This structured approach to presenting each song as a representation of the bands own range while also paying respects to the legends that inspired them make Life as a Hypnotist feel like a record with two A-sides. There is a reason the album doesn’t open with Automated Heart even though it has the same kinetic energy as IRMA—it’s meant to reach out and pull the audience from the unknown sea of That Dark Electric, where Buchanan commands us to “Zoom into the sunken place…Why do you want to be here?” Visit Neptune wants its audience to challenge their own complacency and expectations.
It is hard to reconcile such a strong performance from such a young, newly formed band. The sheer energy and refreshing exuberance from Visit Neptune provides the high-concept substance for mythic origin stories given to bands like Flaming Lips, who never technically stole church instruments, even though it’s easy to believe they could have. Visit Neptune’s story defies the reality, just as their modern musical expression defies its very own inspired composition.
People will ask where Visit Neptune will go from here. What are the next steps? I’m sure Visit Neptune’s response would not be resounding or even reassuring. Their direction after Life as a Hypnotist is not concerned with expectation or demand, their only focus is forward. And if you had to ask them to predict which turns they would take along their way forward, they would likely shrug and respond, “Either way, either way.”