Steve Aoki’s third studio album, Neon Future II, brings listeners on a cinematic journey with a dark twist. It’s the sequel to his previous release, Neon Future, and features a star-studded list of artists like Linkin Park, NERVO, and Snoop Lion. In contrast to its predecessor, this album’s sound is more emotion-driven and dives deeper into the concept of futurism. Embracing the idea of various genres coming together, Aoki combines electro bangers with country, pop and rock influences. While the jumping across genres can cause a disconnect, all of the tracks here are united by the album’s theme – by means of darker tones, voiceovers and sounds that you might expect to hear in the future.
Much like the beginning of a science fiction flick, a robotic voice briefly introduces the Neon Future concept. As if we were opening a “Time Capsule” as the track’s title suggests, a heavy electro beat quickly takes listeners through an imaginary portal. Intermittent machine sounds set the scene for this rager of a track.
The mood quickly transitions to a brighter tone with “I Love It When You Cry,” one of the leading singles off Neon Future II. It features Moxie (Moxoki), whose beautiful vocals soar with the light-spirited tune. Lovestruck lyrics meet a drop that hops and skips to a place reminiscent of Aoki’s Wonderland album. While many might find the production on the simpler side, one thing’s for sure: this tune is super catchy and will prove to be a fan favourite off the album.
“Youth Dem (Turn Up)” keeps the pace up and introduces an ethnic vibe by means of playful percussion. The recognizable voice of Snoop Lion is featured as well, adding a reggae sound – especially during the slow and steady breakdowns. This is a track that will garner a lot of attention from listeners curious to see what a Snoop and EDM crossover sounds like – but that’s the extent of the song’s allure. The beat suits his voice, but it’s definitely nothing new and noteworthy.
The darker air of Neon Future II is well-heard through “Hysteria.” Matthew Koma is known for his unique voice, and in this instance he showcases the more chilling range of it. His cold dictation of “Hysteria’s” lyrics echo in a way that’s almost hypnotic, as a repetitive, dramatic build-up leads to a pounding drop infused with glitchy and effect-heavy versions of Koma’s voice.
Following suit with resonating vocals and an emotional tone is “Darker Than Blood.” You might recognize Linkin Park from their previous hit with Aoki, “A Light That Never Comes,” and respectively for their own tracks. Taking a 360 from the happy sound fans know the Dj for, “Darker Than Blood” is exactly as titled. Linkin Park’s intense vocals complete the track, with a near-monotone range that’s infused with emotion.
Still riding on the futuristic wave, Aoki brings along NERVO’s vocals atop his festival-friendly anthem, “Lightning Strikes.” Produced with Tony Junior, this one is ready for the radio – an upbeat electro house track that compliments the warm vocals of the NERVO sisters.
An interlude titled “Tars,” breaks up Neon Future II – with an eerie voice over by Kip Thorne, an American theoretical physicist. Dramatic background music enhances the mood, as Thorne states, “It’s just the beginning of our shared future,” amongst what seem to be scientific facts or statistics.
Following the confusing and unearthly “Tars,” Aoki eases us back into the music with “Home We’ll Go” featuring Canadian band Walk Off The Earth. The song has a country twang to it, and will likely initiate “Aoki has gone Avicii” speculations.
All jokes aside though, “Home We’ll Go” is easy on the ears and proves that there’s more to Steve than just bangers and cake. While it doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of Neon Future’s sound, it still embraces the melding of genres the theme encompasses.
Another Canadian vocalist is brought on board for “Heaven On Earth.” Sherry St. Germain’s unique sound adds a soulful dimension to the track. Her emotions are well heard as they compete with the progressive hit that is yet again met with space-like whips and breaks.
Standing as one of the album’s power tracks, “Holding Up The World” brings listeners from a tame introduction into an emotion-driven frenzy and drop. It features Harrison and Albin Myers, and is a great showing of when rock meets electronic music. The contrast in both volume and tone takes listeners on a musical rollercoaster that they’re sure to enjoy.
If anyone else’s voice were to be a perfect fit for Aoki’s Neon Future II, it would be Rivers Cuomo. The “weeziness” of his echoing vocals bring the track “Light Years” far beyond Earth. A sci-fi undertone meets electro and slow but steady drums to bring the album full circle, as the song feels like the ending to a story.
Just when you think Aoki has dived as deep as he could with Neon Future II, we’re thrown one more curveball. The outro, “Warp Speed,” features renowned director J.J. Abrams overtop another one of Aoki’s space-influenced soundtracks. Abrams states, “The Neon Future is entirely unpredictable, except for one thing; that before you know it, the Neon Future will be the past.”
Aoki leaves listeners in a state of possible confusion, awe, or pondering – in regards to the otherworldly experience they had just experienced. He has crafted an album that completely embodies the Neon Future idea, and has well-curated the collaborations to carry this vision out. Showcasing more variety in his sound and taking a darker route, Neon Future II is a refreshing change of pace for Steve Aoki and is definitely worth a listen.