Release Date: Sep 13, 2011
Record label: Mom & Pop Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Earlier this year, Austin hipster-pop duo Neon Indian had a brush with the bigs when they recorded an EP with the Flaming Lips. They've earned it: The band's second disc improves on the "chillwave" (read: low-fi synth pop) of its 2009 debut, dunking dreamy early-MTV haircutband balladry in layers of psychedelic schmutz, almost hiding excellent songs in the murk. When Alan Palomo moans about trying to "fall out of love with you" over cavernous Anglophile disco, he sounds unreachable – a lonely planet boy sending out distress signals from the saddest corner of the solar system.
Neon Indian has always been the esoteric, electro-digital child of the “we are not chillwave” movement. Fans of the first album, Psychic Chasms, will be happy to know that wildman/frontman Alan Palomo is sticking to his tripped-out aesthetic and multi-colored landscapes. Era Extraña, however, ditches the first album’s disco punch for digital alienation.
In the wake of the movie Drive, with its hazily seductive soundtrack, an expansive, synth-drenched 80s sound feels positively timely. Though not old enough to remember that decade, Alan Palomo has been mining its riches for some time now, at the forefront of the oft-derided chillwave scene. His first album as Neon Indian was sun-struck and woozy; the mood, on the follow-up, has grown a little darker and on "Future Sick" the wooziness veers into nausea.
It’s hip to be square – or in the case of the year’s current musical climate, it’s hip to be anything but chillwave. Luckily, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and instead of deigning to become an expired version of himself, [a]Neon Indian[/a] emerges as Alan Palomo 2.0 and breaks free from a genre dripping with blog buzz. Leaping from its 2009 predecessor, ‘[b]Psychic Chasms[/b]’, with the first notes of ‘[b]Heart: Attack[/b]’, ‘[b]Era Extraña[/b]’ becomes a lesson in how to execute electronic music properly.
NEON INDIAN perform at Lee’s Palace on October 18. See listing. Rating: NNNN It's got to be strange being called a chillwave artist in 2011. Granted, the term was only invented two years ago, but considering that it came from a joke on the satirical blog Hipster Runoff, it's no surprise that every band initially saddled with the tag has been running from it ever since.
Many of chillwave’s pioneers grew up from -- or out of -- that sound on their second albums, and Neon Indian's Alan Palomo was no exception. Part of chillwave’s initial appeal was that it sounded like it was recorded in bedrooms during stolen moments, but Era Extraña is far more focused than Palomo’s breakthrough debut Psychic Chasms was. It’s even somewhat ambitious, a far cry from the sweet slackerisms like “Deadbeat Summer” that put him on the map.
Some people laugh at chillwave precisely because so many of its practitioners lack a sense of humor. But Alan Palomo is an exception. In 2009, the Texas-raised musician's Neon Indian project debuted with the excellent Psychic Chasms. Like a lot of young musicians, the then-21-year-old Palomo was inspired by Ariel Pink, and he certainly shared that art-pop oddball's sense of irreverence.
In the first few seconds of Era Extraña, we hear the sound of swirling 8-bit particles rapidly coming to a celestial boil. What follows seems to resemble what the birth of the universe must have sounded like had the Big Bang occurred inside the original Nintendo Entertainment System. This is the world in which Alan Palomo sets his sophomore release under the chillwave moniker Neon Indian.
‘Heart: Attack’, the opening track on Neon Indian’s Era Extraña, sounds like a 200-foot-tall Game Boy loading up. It is bold and direct in all its glitchy glory, like all statements of intent should be. What the intention actually is though, isn’t altogether clear. Perhaps the sheer abrasiveness of this 57-second-long instrumental intro is Alan Palomo’s attempt at shaking off the troubling chillwave tag that was attached to his Neon Indian project when he released his debut album, Psychic Chasms, in 2009.
Let’s all be adults here and accept that it’s legitimate to discuss chillwave considered as a genre. Let’s go even a little further than that, and note that the backlash against anything considered a popular (indie) trend is generally more of a bandwagon than the original trend itself, if indeed it ever existed — anti-hipsterism, I’m looking at you (through thick plastic lens frames). Of course, it may be that in saying this I represent the backlash to the backlash, but at this point the metadiscursivity is making my head spin, so let’s move on to the album.
Despite the seemingly warm vocals and gushing sine waves that wash and repeat on Era Extraña, Alan Palomo, aka Neon Indian, recorded it in Helsinki, Finland, during the winter. Strange, I think, but not too strange when you consider the cold mathematical instruments used to record "chillwave" music: the synthesizer, the loop machine, the oscillator, (and now) the computer; instruments that were the staple of Komische music in the 70's, instruments pivotal in shaping Krautrock, and the shape of electronic music today. At first, Era Extraña -- heavily distorted with bleeps and buzzes, sometimes peppered with 8-bit synth tones -- sounds like a classic counterpoint to the coldness of, say, Kraftwerk, but actually, it isn't, or at least not all the time.
In the pre-release trailer for Era Extraña, a tired, displaced looking Alan Palomo wanders the Helsinki frost, trying to open locked doors. The clip is bookended with the Denton-born wunderkind sitting in a darkened diner, scribbling morosely into a notebook, to the wounded sound of “Heart: Decay” – the centerpiece of his new album, and the second part of a three-instrumental suite. If all that didn’t make it abundantly clear, Era Extraña is not the same slippery, soda-pop, slacker-electro record that Psychic Chasms was.
Whimsy’s fleeting. We knew that Alan Palomo’s band-in-name-only would have to release a sophomore album that sounded somewhat different from the debut’s jumpy mischief. What we might not have expected is that he’d get rid of the jump and get rid of the mischief—Era Extraña is a pragmatic sophomore album if ever there was one. The words, and delivery of them, are more “serious”; sonically, it’s filled-out, less perky.
Alan Palomo’s decision to retreat to the Nordic country of Finland for the recording of his second album as Neon Indian appears to be a no-brainer; lushly textured synth-pop that runs the gamut from exuberant to nocturnal seems completely simpatico with a country whose many chimerical qualities were espoused by Finnish patriarch Jean Sibelius. Encamped in the capital city of Helsinki for a month-long stint during last year’s winter solstice, Palomo embraced the nation’s storied remoteness and icy landscapes as part of the gestation for Era Extraña, a record whose circular atmospheres and wistful melodies play out like the perfect soundtrack to a life lived near the Arctic Circle. This isn’t exactly Neon Indian’s For Emma, though.
A second album that’s easy to admire but hard to love. John Aizlewood 2011 A chum of Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann, who remixed and co-produced Era Extraña, Alan Palomo (aka Neon Indian, also the name of the full band) is such a hip name to drop that his clattering, multi-layered electro-pop has spawned a new genre, still unsure whether to call itself: hypnagogic pop, perhaps, or glo-fi, or chillwave… However one categorises his material, the debut Neon Indian album, 2009's Psychic Chasms, was a head-spinning affair which sampled 70s maverick Todd Rundgren without sounding especially dated; at its heart was the heroic Should've Taken Acid With You. For Era Extraña, the Spanish-speaking 22-year-old son of Mexican pop star Jorge Palomo fled to – of all places – Helsinki, where he wrote and recorded these tracks, which are joined and linked by three brief instrumentals: Heart: Attack, Heart: Decay and Heart: Release.