Bridging the Gap
Neon Indian is Alan Palomo, a 23-year-old Mexican-born Texan who specializes in chill vibes and synthpop. In fact, his strong 2009 debut Psychic Chasms is certainly a tributary running to the rather obnoxious phrase “chillwave.” It blew people’s minds in a way that troubled some—it was a little too retro and derivative even as it was brilliantly catchy and tongue-in-cheek. “Should Have Taken Acid With You” was a great single and set a kind of druggy, haphazard tone for his future as an artist. There aren’t any songs like that on his follow-up, Era Extraña. It’s much more atmospheric and ambient, and that’s not a bad thing.
Perhaps to Palomo’s chagrin, there are strong, potent notes of Boards of Canada on this one. Specifically, The Campfire Headphase, a stellar moment in electronic music from 2005, seems to be a big touchstone for him. The strong track “Future Sick” has BoC’s meandering tonal synth climbs. One of the record’s most brilliant tracks is “Polish Girl,” with a space-age and also vaguely ’80s-feeling beat. The whole record has a movie-soundtrack vibe—more accurately, it feels like Ryan Gosling’s movie Drive as soundtracked by bands like College or Chromatics.
In the 21st century, you can use just samplers and a computer to create lush, artistic, boldly beautiful records. Palomo is a master in his small, young genre, fleshing out his live act with a drummer, a synth man, and live visuals. But as a record, Era Extraña stands up to great electronically-influenced contemporaries like Air France, Memory Cassette, Washed Out and Toro y Moi. What’s certainly different here is that Psychic Chasms embraced more of a singles attitude. Era Extraña is for backgrounds, partying, and other mindless listening.
M83’s been perfecting this electro-shoegaze act, but Palomo gives them a run for their money on tracks like the humane “The Blindside Kiss.” Where Chasms felt amateurish and low-fi in a charming way, the interceding two years have done Neon Indian well, resulting in a record that’s polished and professionally ambitious, showing evidence of growth in more ways than one. There’s no “Deadbeat Summer” here, but there’s certainly a strong playlist for all kinds of things: sex, video games, sci-fi melodrama, smoking weed, driving in the summer, and other youthful entertainments. Palomo may be disappointing fans of Chasms, but he opens himself up to a future of musical exploration that’s exciting to observe.