Neon Indian – Era Extraña
Neon Indian – Era Extraña
Genres and styles are coined every year—probably everyday now, what with the Internet and all—and back in 2009 or so, “chillwave” was the hot new thing. Was it the future of pop music? Was it the flavor of the month? Most likely the latter, especially since it wasn’t particularly different from what was out there, not to mention it was too broad a term, encompassing too many dissimilar artists. (Chillwave was often described as an interchangeable blend of shoegaze, indie pop, and lo-fi electonica.) In any case, it seems many of the musicians lumped in with the style, including Washed Out and Toro Y Moi, recognized it as nothing more than a fad, moving on to more traditional territory with their subsequent releases. The same goes for Alan Palomo and Era Extraña, his second album under the Neon Indian moniker.
Palomo’s debut, Psychic Chasms, was a psychedelic disco, drenched in hushed vocals, blurry melodies and lysergic loops, lyrics taking a backseat to the sunny vibes of the music. On Era Extraña, though, Palomo opts for a darker, more mysterious tone. He still prefers feel over form, but he’s no longer interested in crafting something as cheery anymore. Sure, this isn’t exactly doom-and-gloom theatrics, and the music is still largely danceable, built on dense, warped synths and drum machines. But hold up any song on Chasms next to the noise-ravaged “The Blindside Kiss” or the moody title track, and the differences are immediately apparent. This change is mostly due to a shift in Palomo’s inspirations: Rather than a second helping of Chasms‘ swirling psychedelia, Era Extraña is couched in ’80s synth pop and new wave, styles that tend to have a naturally ultramodern and chilly feel, no matter how lively the melodies.
Fortunately, for the most part, this stylistic shift complements Palomo’s modern sensibilities. The swooning album standout “Hex Girlfriend” sounds like the Human League put into a blender, while “Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)” and “Polish Girl” dance away the darkness with their stomping beats and hooky keyboard riffs. Occasionally, Palomo’s ideas outpace his songwriting ability, which lead to a few drab moments like “Fall Out” and “Suns Irrupt” that start out promising but never really get off the ground. There’s also the nagging feeling the songs mesh together a little too well, the record sometimes seeming like one big wash of echoed vocals and swooshing synths. One could argue that’s what some Neon Indian fans love about Palomo’s music, how it’s all atmosphere with just enough structure to support it. Ultimately, though, those fans may be disappointed too because for an artist that’s all about creating vibes, Era Extraña isn’t as successful as its predecessor since the music isn’t as uniformly strong. However, what Palomo explores here has potential, and this record points toward a few interesting directions that Neon Indian could take in the future.