Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Neon Indian: Era Extrana - Album Review

Neon Indian
Era Extrana
Rating: Grrrr

Hopefully this will be the last review where I type the word chillwave, as it is a very short-lived genre that a lot of slightly similar acts were lumped into, ostensibly because they didn't fit anywhere else. Most of the artists that were thrown into the chillwave bag (Toro Y Moi, Washed Out, Memory Tapes) have since moved on to different sounds, seemingly in an effort to distance themselves from what is perceived as a negative connotation with the genre. Initially, Neon Indian (led by Alan Palomo) was one of the leading bands of the chillwave movement. His first album Psychic Chasms was on many best of lists, but for me, I felt its neo-psychedelica overshadowed the songwriting and made for a disjointed listening experience. When Era Extrana came out, I was reluctant to give it a try, based on my aversion to the first album. Of course, curiosity got the best of me, and now I really can't seem to stop playing it. This album is much more structured than Psychic Chasms, which is likely to the detriment of fans of that record. Apparently this is a concept record about a breakup, which I assume is tied in with a futuristic theme. The music on the record echoes this theme of a breakup, with most of the sounds played on analog synths that feel like they were picked up in an electronics graveyard, each note fighting through decay. Another interesting side note, as I reviewed the new M83 record yesterday, this album actually sounds more like what the new M83 record should have been. The music, though slightly decayed sounding, is warm, funky and inviting; with none of the chilliness and roteness of the M83 record.

The album is basically broken down into 3 parts with short instrumental breaks in-between, taking the listener on a journey through a breakup as it is occurring. Lead single "Polish Girl" (fitted with a stylish video) is a gorgeous slab of funky synth pop, with bleeping 8 bit electronics flooding the mix, Palomo wondering of his ex "Do I still cross your mind. Your face still distorts the time."

"The Blindside Kiss" borrows from Jesus and Mary Chain's fuzzed out guitar bliss, creating a gritty, dream pop classic.

Neon Indian - Blindside Kiss by neonindianiilove

"Hex Girlfriend" makes heavy use of whooshing synths and warm analog buzzing, sounding like a poppier New Order.

Two great later tracks really show how Palomo is stretching his sound and also working harder on his songwriting. Where Psychic Chasms felt more like it was all about the bizarre keyboards and sounds, this album is definitely his attempts at making a great pop record, albeit a very odd pop record.

"Future Sick" is what Prince would sound like if crossed with Kraftwerk.

Neon Indian - Album: Era Extraña by neonindianiilove

"Arcade Blues," aside from some abrasive vocal percussive effects, is probably the most radio friendly track on the album. I love the intense hook in the chorus.

Neon Indian - Album: Era Extraña by neonindianiilove

There are only a few hints of Palomo's chillwave past. The dreamy, lazy grooves of "Fallout" are pure chillwave bliss, as are the future pop-isms of "Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)" with its lush analog bed of synths and breathy vocals.

Neon Indian - Album: Era Extraña by neonindianiilove

Era Extrana is a confident step forward for Neon Indian, moving away from chillwave and focusing on more pure songcraft rather than just interesting sounds. It's a dense record, bursting at the seams with really great ideas. While many fans of Psychic Chasms will bemoan the fact this record is not as distinctive and quirky, there is a lot to love here, and is well worth the investment.

Rating Guide

Chilfos: masterpiece; coolest thing I've heard in ages.

Woof Daddy: excellent; just a hair away from being a masterpiece.

Grrrr: very good; will definitely be considered for my top releases of the year.

Yeah Daddy Make Me Want It: good; definitely invites further listens and peaks one's interest for more material.

Meh: not horrible, but certainly not great; could have either been polished, trimmed, or re-thought.

Jeez Lady: what the hell happened? Just plain bad. They should hang their heads in shame and be forced to listen to Lady Gaga ad nauseam as penance.

Tragicistani: so bad, armed villagers with pitchforks and torches should run the artist out of the country for inflicting this abomination on the human race.

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