The much anticipated debut album from Evan Russell Saffer, Neon Gas, is here. In the days listening to this album on loop and preparing to write my review, I found it oddly difficult to start. Mostly because I’ve known Evan for probably five or so years, the majority of that time while he was fronting the dynamo of a rock group, Fixer, who shook New York City, and the country for that matter, for almost a decade. After the demise of the their indie label in 2009, it was no surprise when I heard of the Evan’s new solo project. Now two years later, Neon Gas culminates a huge transformation for him, both personally and artistically. Taking all this into account reviewing the album is decidedly like reviewing a tranny. You’re damn certain you know what you’re looking at, but at a closer inspection you’re severely mistaken.
With that said, if Axl Rose and Layne Staley had a baby, that demented boy would have a voice on par with Saffer; wily and nasal yet dark, pained, and very, very twisted. Neon Gas, as a whole, safely breaks away from his previous project to explore a more polished sound with a full chorus on several of the tracks. As a self-proclaimed rock opera, Evan collects a kaleidoscope of genres and melds theatrical vocals that conjure up glimpses of a grandiose stadium rocker, peppered with cascading metal guitar riffs in Chemical Marketplace and Dream of Love’s Last Dying Breathe. In fact, I can clearly imagine the likes of Ville Valo of H.I.M. taking the stage as Evan’s antagonist if this were to ever be adjusted for Broadway. I’m going to be sorely disappointed if there isn’t at least some pyrotechnics in the coming tour. On the second breathe, you notice the simplistically soul shaking, nearly grunge qualities in, With You Alone, which reverberate with Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit.
As the album name suggests, however, this is far from the nostalgic revisit of an outdated era. Alienator’s mischievous tempo tricks us into liking the pleasurable embrace of a swift kick to face one moment, and then lulling us in calm sedation with soothing, wayward rhythms the next. This ritualistic and erratic behavior is all too fetishistic, but we like that. The tone shifts with Dyrwlslm, a melodic lovers ballad that feels less painful and more resolved than some of the previously tormented tracks, that assures an inner resolution. This album erupts with sheer brute force, maintains stamina until the very end, concluding with a melodic whisper of a lullaby with So Far Away.
In like a lion and out like a lamb, as they say. Evan has sure surprised us with his ability to collage together yet another amazing album. His pressing curiosity of atmosphere and song structure proves his zeal for exploration. This is reason enough to inhale - and go head - hold your breath, Neon Gas won’t disappoint.