On their two hit singles – 2010’s “Animal” and 2012’s “Everybody Talks” – Neon Trees refashioned post-Strokes dance rock into unshakable radio pop. If the Utah band was from New York or L.A., its slick simulations of neo-New Wave might seem cynical. But there’s something sweet about kids from more or less the middle of nowhere getting their little piece of modern rock. They’re not Foster the People, they’re everyday people.
The Trees’ third album ups the empathy quotient: Frontman Tyler Glenn, who was raised Mormon, recently came out as gay, so phrases like “I was socially absurd” take on unexpected resonance. Pop Psychology opens with the biggest, shiniest songs he’s come up with, each taking on a slippery aspect of post-modern romance. There’s the sun-kissed altpop of “Love in the 21st Century,” the Peter Gabriel arena gush of “Sleeping With a Friend,” the Bowie-quoting bubble-punk of “Teenager in Love.” The stark, chilly synth ballad “Voices in the Hall” works as both a late-night breakup lament and a testament of personal struggle, as if the difference between pop and art was no difference at all.