Review Summary: Alan Palomo - still neon in the end.
“Recession-era music: low-budget and danceable,” said the New York Times
’ Jon Parales of the (then still-emerging) chillwave genre in an article published by the paper back in 2010. Parales undoubtedly had chillwave’s trademark cheap-sounding bedroom production and bouncing dance-music hooks in mind when he opted to use those words to convey his initial description of the genre, but even he could not possibly have predicted the other scruples which this late-2000s branch of ambient synthpop would end up sharing with his metaphor of choice. In recent times, the frequent (and often stellar) output of similarly-veined acts like Washed Out, Toro Y Moi, and Memory Tapes – just to name a few – have gone a long way towards ensuring that chillwave, like its real-life economic counterpart, will likely end up as a constant and enduring phenomenon, the signs of its presence permanently seared in the back of many minds.
But for Alan Palomo, who had been writing and performing music for many years before the inception of Neon Indian – as both Ghosthustler and VEGA – that probably doesn’t matter. For even before the 2009 release of Psychic Chasms
, his debut effort as one half of Neon Indian (alongside video artist Alicia Scardetta), Palomo made it clear that he planned on eventually returning to the synthpop style that he had so triumphantly championed as the leader of VEGA. Yet there was always hope that Palomo would reconsider his decision and keep his project with Scardetta alive for just a little while longer, with his debut record as Neon Indian – itself a gorgeous marriage of style and substance – being the chief argument.
Even when viewed independently, Psychic Chasms
is a confident and loud-mouthed affirmation that the entire genre would be more than just a mere flash in the pan. Whereas other roughly similar acts opted to hazily reconstruct childhood memories that have long since been consumed by VHS mold, Palomo managed to unite all of the genre’s best sentiments – the deceptively hackneyed bedroom production, its yearning sense of grandeur, and characteristically fluid visual decorum – together on a single album. Upon its release, Thought Catalog famously reviewed the album from a penile perspective – to which Palomo responded on his Twitter account with an exuberant, "Finally! Someone hears the penises!” tweet. But this time around on Era Extraña
there are no phalluses to be found - just an obtuse amount of balls.
Palomo's new-found bravado is smeared all over the pages of his new record. Album opener “Heart: Attack”, with its disparate shimmers and cacophonic 8-bit squiggles, affixes a fevered and gauzy sense of longing to proceedings, but it’s really second track “Polish Girl” that gets the show underway. The song bravely introduces itself with a shiny catchiness that is terribly reminiscent of a latter-day Duran Duran single, yet feels purposefully spare and fleeting, with Palomo nonchalantly pressing, “You, you’ve got to remember!” in the background. Elsewhere, slow and hazy synths glide out from a dramatically circulating backing beat on “Fall Out”, which then ends with the type of muted denouement that one might expect from Daft Punk after a particularly grueling day at the office.
Depending on how one sees it, the title of Neon Indian’s latest album Era Extraña
can apparently mean either "Strange Era" or "She Was Strange" (I use “apparently” because yo no hablo español
, you see), but either way the context is fitting: Palomo’s muffled vocals, sibilant synths, and wan atmospherics might as easily have recalled a futuristic urban utopia or the immediate aftermath of a bizarre, yet particularly intoxicating date with a breathtaking femme fatale. Either way one struggles to figure out if it was all real or simply imagined. It is in this rather disorienting template that bleached musical movements like those on “Suns Irrupt” or “Hex Girlfriend” work their magic, creating formless cities or venues for sensations to congregate, just so that an effervescing musical interlude like “Heart: Decay” can tie it all together and call it a day.
The most remarkable thing about Era Extraña
is the fact that the collective joys of its contents are surprisingly easy to access. Each of the songs carry a sense of sun-baked detachedness that allow them to be individually extricated from the rest of the album and enjoyed at one’s leisure (in fact, putting this record on shuffle along with the other 80 gigabytes of music on one’s iTunes will create an entirely new – but still interesting – experience). But it is the bigger picture which always provides the effect that will keep one coming back for more: blurred and laid-back, yet waffly and warm all at once, this is precisely the sort of pleasure that you’ll always want to shell out money for – recession or otherwise.