by Allanah Maarteen
God, it feels good to listen to pop music—like hugging a friend you haven’t seen in too long. A little awkward at first, but there in the embrace, those arms around you, you belong on her shoulder. Oh hey, sweet animal body.
Like hugging a friend, American Neon, the new collaboration between Protextor & Brother Bear (Matt Puckett from Mother Falcon), is full of love and bodies. Sophisticated, ironic and sexy, all at once, American Neon is the mind made flesh, a cosmic collision of arrangement and rhyme that gathers the fragments of our unstable reality and arranges them into righteous, nostalgic newness. The kind of newness that lasts.
The first track, “How Bad it Gets,” dwells in introspection and eerie guitar chords that could have been lifted from a post-millennial-apocalypse Ennio Morricone score. Adam Protextor’s voice is immediately relatable, angry but open. It’s hateful and loving, spitting and singing. But the record really takes off with the second track.
“Not Tonight,” the hit, is a stunning, danceable fuck you. Sensual horns and a skating bass move the song through Protextor’s witty, wrecked mind. “I keep on wasting my time/I keep on changing my mind/I keep on laying in bed awake in the night/Afraid of my life.” But it’s not just about confusion and resistance. For Protextor, it’s also about getting naked and forgetting you care. By the second bridge, you’re falling away from it all, trusting a flawless rhythm section to guide you through a familiar haze: “They keep on whispering/And I keep on listening/And they never go away.” It’s the thousand voices assaulting you as you drink your morning coffee. The bass line builds, the horns weave mysterious, and Protextor throws it back in their face “Yo, fuck you, but/I don’t really want to think about it tonight.” The song culminates in a sparse sax and trumpet exchange—a wail, a moan and a syncopated horn/vocal beat.
Throughout the record, the rhymes dance between neurotic struggles of the virtual age and electric moments when bodies connect. “I done seen this movie already/Come and retune the telly/Cuz I got one two too too many/New much news to read.” It’s hard to pay attention when everything happens all at once. So let go, give in to your body. “Take a little control.” To Protextor, this deconstructed mess is an opportunity to find ourselves sweaty in love, repeating, timeless.
By the end, “Undertow” (featuring breakout Chicago raunch rapper CupcaKKe) arrives distorted and reckless, blurring the lines between love and hate. An erratic, dark-machine bass drives the verses. Muttering sweet nothings, Protextor is at his most savage, raucous, dirty. But then a watery, begging hook softens everything, and we’re lost in stellar guitar reverb. When CupcaKKe arrives, fierce and fiery, contemplation seems useless. “Love me love me love me love me love me/That’s all I ask is for you to love me.” We’re all caught up and muddy inside our skin, sentimental for the past, longing for the future.
After a moment, a simple piano melody plays. A tune that belongs in a music box, a suspended reminder that human suffering is always tempered by human joy. And that’s American Neon – pain and ecstasy tangled up in each other and made fluorescent.
Protextor and Brother Bear play Sidewinder tonight, December 7th for the American Neon release party with Zeale, Pleasure Venom and more.
Allanah Maarteen is a musician, writer and artist who tends to take everything other than herself a little too seriously. You can check out her band Imitari, formerly known as Madd Comrades, on Bandcamp and her drawings on instagram @amjaxx.