Chillwave: one of the bigger, more recent reminders of how incredibly easy it is to take a couple of vaguely similar bands, tag them with a quasi-memorable name, and watch a new “sub-genre” take off. The practice wasn’t too uncommon in the past (see: Laurel Canyon folk-rock, Seattle grunge, and the Berlin sound), but the whole ordeal has been sped up exponentially by the Internet, since the generalizations are no longer confined by location. Since it got its start a couple years back, the so-called genre has garnered a ton of buzz, warranted namedrops in the Wall Street Journal
and New York Times
, and spawned the usual throng of imitators and haterz.
While no one really likes their work to be generalized about, the tag has stuck and, with solid releases this year from chillwave stalwarts Toro Y Moi and Washed Out, doesn’t look to be disappearing anytime soon. (We miss you dance-punk!) One of its main propagators, how ever unwittingly, is/was Alan Palomo, founder and musical half to Neon Indian, whose gauzy 2009 debut Psychic Chasms is considered one of the sub-genre’s highest points yet. Since its release though, Palomo hasn’t looked back in the least. Last year, he collaborated with Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor for a brilliant one-off single called “Sleep Paralysist” via Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound series and, earlier this year, put out a solid EP with psych-pop weirdos The Flaming Lips. Both works bore little resemblance to Neon Indian’s debut, especially in the former’s case, which ditched Psychic Chasms‘ woozy analogue washes for amiable synth beeps and a radio-ready chorus.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise then that Era Extraña is as good of a record as its stellar predecessor, even outshining it occasionally. Where Psychic Chasms was a shy and fragmented collection of songs – very much a product of our era of bedroom production, Extraña is a confident, all-inclusive album that people/bloggers will be pretty hard pressed to fence into a single, silly-titled sub-genre. (Not that they won’t try to anyway.) Opening to a bubbling-up of the same wistful, Super Nintendo synths that were all over Psychic Chasms, the record bursts headlong into “Polish Girl”, a stunner of a single that’s sure to go down as one of 2011′s best by year’s end. The track rides a slinky keyboard line from each striking verse to its killer chorus, where we find Palomo wondering dreamily, “Do you remember, do I ever cross your mind?” (Read: By song’s end, you’ll have trouble getting him off your mind.)
Elsewhere, Neon Indian can be found finally venturing outside of Palomo’s bedroom, whether in the dramatic, Duran Duran-inspired keys of “Fallout” and “Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)” or the dramatic, clattering drums of Era Extraña‘s title track. Indeed, what’s most interesting about the album is how entrenched it is in the lo-fi haze Palomo wandered on his debut, while still free enough to filter said haze through a wide variety of styles and lyrical themes (as on the three-part “Heart: Attack/Decay/Release” trilogy and the lovelorn, cleverly titled “Hex Girlfriend”). Dave Fridmann, who has had a hand in many of the best psychedelic rock albums of the past few years (the latest from Tame Impala, MGMT and Flaming Lips), recorded and mixed the album. Fridmann’s involvement is a mark of Neon Indian’s graduation from bedroom-produced blog phenom to bona-fide indie pop sensation. Because of this shift, Era Extraña sports the admirable trait of being so much like many of the best psychedelic pop records in recent memory (Oracular Spectaular pops to mind rather often), while going a long way in forging Neon Indian’s own, very distinct musical identity.
Essential Tracks: “Polish Girl”, “Era Extraña” and “Arcade Blues”