Neon Indian - Era Extraña - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Neon Indian - Era Extraña

by Niall O'Conghaile Rating:8 Release Date:2011-10-10

What is 'chillwave'? I don't know exactly, but if it's Era Extraña (the new album by Neon Indian, aka lone synth psychedelicist Alan Palomo), then I like it a lot. As the genre name would suggest, it's pretty wavy and it's also very chill, but here seems to be some cross-over between 'chillwave' and the 'hauntological' sounds of artists like Ariel Pink, Nite Jewel and John Maus. In fact, this album's title track could easily have come from one of Pink's past solo efforts, bringing to mind as it does the soundtrack to some long-forgotten early 80s action thriller once thought to be lost but finally rediscovered on a third generation, badly copied VHS. That sound-aesthetic even goes as far as the wobbly-tape-recording, up-and-down effect so beloved of My Bloody Valentine that gets used throughout Era Extraña.

The Mexican-born but Texas-based Palomo certainly likes his synths, and this is no bad thing as I am quite partial to a bit synthery myself. The slow, brooding arpeggios of 'Fallout' sound like something from the soundtrack of Street Hawk or Air Wolf, and would not be out of place on the score of the new film Drive, itself something of a synth-fetishists wet dream. But whereas Drive (and the Italians Do It Better stable of acts used on that soundtrack) stick to a John Carpenter-esque doomy strain of minimalism, Palomo opts for a more layered, intricate psyche-pop approach. Both 'Heart Decay' and 'Future Sick' start out sounding like the analogue IDM of Boards of Canada before those floaty Harold Faltemeyer synths and Gameboy-style splashes shake us out of our late 70s prog stupor and bring us kicking and dreaming into the, um, early 80s.

There's a real spaciness here, Palomo guiding us through the back alleys of his mind in a stoned fug and a haze of dry ice. 'The Blindside Kiss' and 'Hex Girflriend' replicate the old Jesus and Mary Chain/shoegaze trick of dense, distorted sounds overlaid with breathy, 60s pop-influenced vocals, only in the deft hands of Neon Indian this trope becomes refracted through the prism of bubbling synthesiser experimentalism and the work of some of pop music's favourite lone-genius figures. The swooshing synths of Era Extraña's opener 'Heart Attach' bring to mind Todd Rundgren and Jean-Jacques Perry, while the excellent first singe, 'Polish Girl', could be Paul McCartney, if only the electronic Paul McCartney of 'Secret Friend' and the McCartney II album rather than the 60s whooping mop-top. The equally brilliant 'Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow)' has flickers of Toto's drivetime classic 'Africa', and is a strong contender for the next single, if you ask me.

But don't let these references scare you, kids. Like Ariel Pink, Neon Indian has a knack for taking elements from the most unfashionable corners of the music spectrum and imbuing them with a twisted, LSD-fried wonkiness that makes all the cringing worthwhile. Or do kids these days still cringe at this sort of 80s soft rock/AM radio thing? Don't ask an old fud like me what the kids think, but at a startlingly young 22, Palomo couldn't have lived through the original runs of The Equalizer or Ulysses 31 on TV, so I wonder from what recesses of his imagination have these sounds sprung? This might be down to a co-production credit from the Flaming Lips' Dave Friedman I guess, but the true beauty here is in the melodies and the songs as opposed to just the production and the textures.

The songs on Era Extraña are short, strong and snappy, and each one if chock-full of sounds that will make your heart and mouth smile, even as the mood shifts from upbeat, playful and romantic to something broodier and more tense. Music fans looking for something to sate their appetite in the absence of a new record by Haunted Graffiti will find an awful lot to like here, as would maybe your younger sibling who was into Owl City for a few minutes. As good as this album is though, I would still opt for John Maus' recent, brilliant, opus We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves as being my lo-fi synth album of the year, though Era Extraña comes a close second. Maybe there really is something afoot here? Maybe this 'chillwave' thing will stop being a PR wet dream and become an actual reality? Because I really do like it, but only if it's done as well as Neon Indian.

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