It appears that Nathaniel Pearn has had an interesting few years since I checked out his last album, My Heart Beats Like A Drum. This is Pearn's first album with him in the front seat as singer-songwriter, a move that holds promise given the over-reliance on occasionally formulaic instrumentals on previous releases.
Having said which, Neon Hurts My Eyes still starts with an instrumental in the form of Metropolis. That opening still sign-posts how much Natural Self has changed this time around though. Whilst this album retains elements of Pearn's hip-hop and funk production influences the opening highlights there is a lot more going on. The press-release may be a little over-eager in name-checking Radiohead and the Beta Band but this is clearly a more experimental album.
So Neon Hurts My Eyes opens with glitchy electronic-bleeps and wild, soaring vocal choruses before early preview track Red Wire Blue Wire picks up the baton. Here Pearn's vocals are applied to a head-nodding electronic track, complete with arpeggiated synths and bass-heavy keys. Its a marked departure, and a refreshing one.
There are moments when Neon Hurts... seems to drift much more towards the traditional Natural Self sound, on the soulful choral female vocals of The Valleys, for example. On the whole however this is an album that sounds like the creator grew tired of his pigeonhole, and Pearn's adventures are generally a more worthwhile listen as a result. Yet there are a few missteps - a general overwhelming sense of earnestness and a cover of Laurie Andreson's O Superman that I struggle to wholly get behind.
The album is strongest when it forges its own path. Mirror To The Sky is an entrancing post-apocalyptic ballad of our demise, complete with haunting cello and mechanical drums whilst Take It Back is fuzzy, jiving and chaotic - a whirl of electronic noise and grimy bass. The album closes on a haunted, spectral instrumental in Paper Skyline that conjures a sense of conflicted optimism.
Pearn is no longer wrestling with his inspiration as he was on previous albums. Neon Hurts My Eyes is Natural Self creating his own identity, and so far it's sounding pretty good.
Neon Hurts My Eyes is out on 11 March through Tru Thought, available for pre-order on CD from Amazon.co.uk [affiliate link].