Music Reviews
Era Extraña

Neon Indian Era Extraña

(Static Tongues) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

Despite the seemingly warm vocals and gushing sine waves that wash and repeat on Era Extraña, Alan Palomo, aka Neon Indian, recorded it in Helsinki, Finland, during the winter. Strange, I think, but not too strange when you consider the cold mathematical instruments used to record "chillwave" music: the synthesizer, the loop machine, the oscillator, (and now) the computer; instruments that were the staple of Komische music in the 70's, instruments pivotal in shaping Krautrock, and the shape of electronic music today. At first, Era Extraña -- heavily distorted with bleeps and buzzes, sometimes peppered with 8-bit synth tones -- sounds like a classic counterpoint to the coldness of, say, Kraftwerk, but actually, it isn't, or at least not all the time. Something's changed in Palomo's writing style since Psychic Chasms:  his breathy singing seems to want to be cold, to seek coldness within warmth. And the reverb effects on his vocals (consequently making most of his lyrics indecipherable) doesn't help make things any warmer. That begs me to ask the question: if this is chillwave music, isn't this a little too cold? Should we call it frostwave, instead?

On October 23rd, 2008, The Telegraph published an article that claims that the old adage "cold hands, warm heart" is a myth. The study's main research involved comparing how "generous and charitable" to others people holding warm coffee cups were versus people holding cold coffee cups. The ones holding warm coffee cups were, unsurprisingly, found to be a lot more friendly. Putting that research aside, Palomo's hands must be pretty warm, because his heart isn't. Songs titles like "Heart: Decay," "Fall Out," and "Future Sick" help manifest a sensation of heartbreak, of love lost indefinitely, indelibly. To add to this, Palomo isn't singing about the lament of not taking acid with someone, being terminally chill, or hanging out in a deadbeat summer. There's a narrative embedded in Era Extraña, a narrative about lovesickness, about breakup. Pretty anti-psychedelic stuff! Yet the spastic, laptop-created, keyboard-toked psychedelia found much more harmonically in Psychic Chasms, isn't completely gone. Instead, Palomo exhibits a much more mature control of his instrumentation. Era Extraña is more complex, and as a result, an album that replaces whateverchillwave is for an assemblage of punk and pop, displaying a more developed Neon Indian sound (despite not being able to dance to it).

But more complexity doesn't always equate to more timbres. This is what ultimately makes Era Extraña less of an engaging listening experience than Psychic Chasms. While Palomo advances his songwriting by attempting a concept album, he fails to vary the songs enough to allow their inner essence to shine, to glow, to hook inside the listener, to haunt them. Instead, each song seems doomed for a foggy aurora, and halfway through the album, the listener will expect nothing but. This becomes both monotonous and even a little cheesy, prompting the ultimate question: what would you rather listen to, another song about acid, or another song about love? You decide.