One thing that consistently captivates my attention is the ability of music to shape identities and forge communities across oceans – making strangers feel like close acquaintances.
For some, this dynamic is inseparable from the music. Many are able to relate to the phenomenon of an album or song bringing up long-forgotten childhood memories filled with sensory details, a sense of nostalgia for a time of innocence that has since been lost or a past relationship whose bittersweetness still lingers.
I, myself, am included in this mix. When I first heard that Neon Trees would be releasing their first album in six years, I eagerly hopped on the opportunity to craft a pitch to write your typical track-by-track music review, indifferent to anything found on the back pages of Billboard magazine.
However, I realized I couldn’t do that. For me, my love for Neon Trees has never fully been about their music — I primarily listen to post-hardcore and emo, not the synthesized pop rock typical of a Neon Trees song. Neon Trees has always been a place for me to find a place to find respite and confirmation through both the good and bad stages of my life.
While I will conclude this piece by delivering a formal review of their newest album I Can Feel You Forgetting Me which was released on July 24, I can’t help but acknowledge the identity I have found through their music.
“Oh, honey, now you’re sayin’ I’m acting crazy
And I don’t see what you see
Get back to what you used to like about me
Back to what you used to like about me”
—”Used to Like,” from Neon Trees’ newest album I Can Feel You Forgetting Me
Towards the end of my eighth grade year in band, my teacher handed out what would become my first exposure to Neon Trees: a handwritten copy of the oboe part for his own personal arrangement of Neon Trees’s song “Animal” for concert band. For a period of a few months, that arrangement was a work in progress as my band teacher studied every note in the song’s music video, releasing a more complete version of the sheet music as he wrote it.
Having been raised on pure Christian rock with no regrets, I remember this as one of the first times I ever fell seriously in love with secular music. Hearing the music on the paper come to life in band and being intrigued by the aesthetics of the zoologically transfigurative nature of the song’s music video on my teacher’s computer led me to seek out the song outside of class.
Despite my continued fondness for Christian rock, the song became a gateway into opening a new world of personal identity in music for me.
My discovery at the time that the lead singer of Neon Trees, Tyler Glenn, was a practicing Mormon only made it all the better. Having been raised a devout evangelical Southern Baptist, I was taught to be skeptical of the messages spoken by those who were “unsaved,” i.e., non-Christians or those not baptized. I was wary of the fact that the music was coming from a background of Mormonism and not the Baptist faith, but I nonetheless found a sense of safety through a shared sense of a Christian-inspired faith through my early exploration of Neon Trees.
“So if you’re gonna mess me up, don’t do it slowly
If you’re gonna lead me on then act like you know me
And if you’re gonna get me addicted, you have my permission
I think I know how these things go
If you’re gonna mess me up, don’t do it slow”
– “Mess Me Up” from Neon Trees’ newest album I Can Feel You Forgetting Me
In this evangelical Christian bubble of mine, I eventually encountered what would become my greatest spiritual journey: the realization that I was gay.
In evangelical Christianity, a testimony is one’s personal story about how they came to solidify their faith in God. For me, even though I had been saved and baptized years earlier, my coming out was an event that put my faith to the test, acting as my testimonial by strengthening and reaffirming my Christian identity.
However, it wasn’t easy. In church, I was told that homosexuality was prohibited by the Bible and grew up believing that gay people just needed to find the right person of the opposite gender or, as some theorized, were possessed by demons and held under the influence of Satan. In the LGBTQ+ community at the time, I was told that there was no place for Christianity or the divine authority of the Bible in the community because of the church’s views on the matter.
In whatever direction I turned, I could not find myself. I was told that the two halves of my life that had the biggest influence on my personhood could not exist.
“I think I’m going through something All I know, all I know is tonight, I got nothing I’m not going home”
– “Going Through Something” from Neon Trees’ newest album I Can Feel You Forgetting Me
“I think I’m going through something
All I know, all I know is tonight, I got nothing
I’m not going home”
After a two-year period of searching out and finding evidence of practicing gay Christians on the internet who didn’t just wave off the Bible as some “desert scribblings” (as I once heard the Bible called by an ex-Christian member of the LGBTQ+ community), along with meditative prayer, I came out, first to myself and then to one of my friends.
Even though I now had relatable people in the media whom I could look to for encouragement, there were limits. Many times, they came from more progressive Christian backgrounds to begin with, unlike my conservative Christian upbringing, and were currently involved in progressive churches.
Unlike them, the Southern Baptist faith made sense to me and was the denomination my family had been a part of for multiple generations. I had no intention of ever leaving it for a more progressive form of Christianity.
Even though I had found people to look up to, I wasn’t finished searching, which is how the announcement of Glenn coming out as gay came to my attention.
The stream of interviews that broke the news from Billboard to Rolling Stone explored how Glenn had finally understood what love truly felt like after allowing himself to romanticize about men — similar to how I discovered my own sexuality, just less physical.
Most importantly, these articles highlighted Glenn’s continued commitment to his faith and church, an affirmation unmatched by another gay celebrity on his level of fame for me. His coming-out story became a central factor in uniting the two deeply polarized sides of my spiritual journey.
Amid a tumultuous clash between the inner beliefs of my faith and the physical attraction of my soul, I found representation. That representation gave me the self-permission needed to accept both halves of myself.
“When the night is over
It feels like we’ve been here before
This déjà vu got me missing you (Missing you, yeah)
Yeah, when the night is over
The struggle that we always do
‘Cause we need somebody (Somebody)
Yeah, we need somebody”
– “When the Night is Over” from Neon Trees’ newest album I Can Feel You Forgetting Me
Suddenly, I found myself listening to Neon Trees’ music in new ways, cognizant that the voice behind the power pop sound of the song “Everybody Talks” was someone who experienced many of the same struggles as myself.
As a follower of the band, the release of Neon Trees’ 2014 album Pop Psychology was a clear reflection of Glenn’s newfound acceptance of his sexuality. This was not just because of the direct influence of Glenn’s sexuality on some of the album’s songs but also the freer sound many of the tracks had.
The album came about after Glenn’s own battle with his sexuality through therapy and personal realization. As someone who also struggled before accepting himself, I understood the liberating timbre of the album on a personal level.
After allowing myself to be the full version of who I was, I became filled with a feeling of limitless hope and freedom for the first time in what seemed like forever.
Songs from Pop Psychology, like “Love in the 21st Century,” turned into personal anthems during the early years of my gay identity. For the first time in my life, I finally found representation relatable to who I was and not just from anywhere — from a band that had followed me through multiple milestones of my life.
However, as with any honeymoon stage, this happy-go-lucky part of my coming out wasn’t forever.
“Oh, stacking up my house of cards Gonna watch ’em as they fall apart Rollin’ on the floor in the candy store They call me crazy, but crazy’s my new best (Friend)”
– “New Best Friend” from Neon Trees’ newest album I Can Feel You Forgetting Me
“Oh, stacking up my house of cards
Gonna watch ’em as they fall apart
Rollin’ on the floor in the candy store
They call me crazy, but crazy’s my new best (Friend)”
In late 2015, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e., the Mormon church) announced that non-celibate gays would be excommunicated and children of homosexual couples would be barred from baptism within the church. In other words, the Mormon church announced that it was “okay” to be gay, so long as you weren’t being gay.
Early the next year, Glenn announced his family’s and his departure from the Mormon church — a direct response to this announcement. The same year that Glenn’s family left the Mormon church, mine left the Southern Baptist church.
Our reasons were similar. Both of our churches had made it clear to both of us that we could not be true to our LGBTQ+ identities and still be respected as children of God within the church, though the Southern Baptist denomination had made that clear for decades.
In concurrence with his family’s departure from the Mormon church, Glenn released his 2016 solo album Excommunication which was written as a statement about the church’s anti-gay policy.
Since then, he has played an active part as both a critic and educator on the church’s anti-gay stance and its effects on the lives of its gay members, though he no longer adheres to the Mormon faith.
“Now I’m calling you my holy ghost Disappearing when I need you most And I let you overthink when we got too close (Oh) Now I’m calling you my holy ghost Yeah, you’re nowhere when I need you most Then I let you overthink, so you went rogue Where’d you go? (Oh) Where’d you go, my holy ghost? (Oh)”
– “Holy Ghost” from Neon Trees’ newest album I Can Feel You Forgetting Me
“Now I’m calling you my holy ghost
Disappearing when I need you most
And I let you overthink when we got too close (Oh)
Now I’m calling you my holy ghost
Yeah, you’re nowhere when I need you most
Then I let you overthink, so you went rogue
Where’d you go? (Oh)
Where’d you go, my holy ghost? (Oh)”
Much like Glenn, it has become part of my life to speak up about the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community within Christianity. However, I am also pressed to stand up for the representation of Christianity within the LGBTQ+ community.
Though I continue my life as a Christian while Glenn distanced himself from the faith, his story and evolution of his spiritual beliefs tell a story of personal struggle trying to balance religion with sexuality. Unlike those in the LGBTQ+ community that I encountered early on in my coming out who brushed off Christianity as nonsense, Glenn presents his history in the Mormon church in a serious manner and is open to having complex dialogues about his journey.
Similarly, I have used my continuation of the Christian faith and my transfer from the Southern Baptist denomination to the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination to also help educate others on the issues the LGBTQ+ community faces in Christianity through starting conversations.
It was with the release of Neon Trees’ newest album three weeks ago that I reflect on how much the world of faith-based representation has improved since I was coming out.
This past year, former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg experienced widespread success in the Democratic primaries as an openly gay and practicing Christian. Last year, gay icon and worldwide pop star Lady Gaga affirmed her own Christian faith and condemned Mike Pence for his anti-LGBTQ+ views. To me, these examples and more stand as massive strides towards the acceptance of my faith within the gay community.
Having reconciled my faith with my sexuality and seeing this development of a new community of support, I awaited the release of I Can Feel You Forgetting Me not as someone desperate to find affirmation for myself but as someone who had found new life and freedom.
The album focuses primarily on themes of lost relationships, ongoing struggles and coping mechanisms — things that are inescapable in everyday life. It divulges from the dominating optimistic sound of Pop Psychology to create a mix of lyrics that evokes memories of loss and heartache in the listens but stands true to the feel-good pop sound found in Neon Trees’ past albums. This duality is achieved through the upbeat, charismatic sound of the songs, which presents these topics not in a way that provokes hopelessness but in a way that encourages perseverance, while still acknowledging the validity of emotion.
Overall, I give this album 4.25 stars out of 5. Prior fans and listeners will undoubtedly recognize the quintessential Neon Trees sound met with fresh new beats but may also find the album’s themes, many of which remain consistent across all 10 of its tracks, to be repetitive. My top track pick is “Holy Ghost,” which punctuates a crescendoing rock intro with a powerful pop chorus backed by electro sounds.
All in all, on a personal level for me, the album symbolizes more than what a typical review can convey. It’s a continuation of a love for a band that has been with me as a source of affirmation through some of the hardest moments of my life and a reminder of how far I’ve come. While everyone may not tie the personal meaning I tie to the music of Neon Trees, I hope that, by sharing my story, I can encourage others that they’re never alone in their life story, even if they feel like there’s no one out there to whom they can relate.
Header image by Yusra Shah