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Music Review: Neon Indian – Era Extrana

Chillwave, the darling genre of just two years ago, seems to be undergoing a resurgence again in 2011 with releases from Washed Out, Memory Tapes, Toro Y Moi, and now Neon Indian. Though all lumped together under the catch-all genre moniker, each band has evolved itself into a distinct outfit, and while some bands have pushed the limits of the pastoral sounds, Neon Indian has veered more into sharp pop songs, buoyed by the shimmering synth and sample work of the genre as a whole.

Neon Indian is guided by the songwriting force of Alan Palomo. And while a Brooklyn address would be the obvious choice for his residence, he comes from Mexico, via Texas. While the pedigree seems unlikely, there is no denying Palomo’s ability to write transcendent songs that maintain a sense of humor and are full of hooks and melodies.

Era Extrana was recorded in Helsinki, and whether by design, or simple tangential influence, the music is more expansive than on the uneven Psychic Chasms, weaving a tapestry of synth across a spectrum of sonic landscapes. But Boards of Canada this is not. Neon Indian’s core is good songwriting, which, though propelled by a pastiche of technological advances and electronic sounds, has a strong emotional base.

“Polish Girl” is a definite “best of 2011” contender. Its 80s feel is undeniable, but it’s done with such a modern twist that you don’t get trapped into the neverending circle of nostalgia. There’s a gulf of difference between honoring and utilizing influences, and simply parroting them. Neon Indian can walk the thin end of that wedge well.

Not everything works up to the potential of the overall effort. “Bildside Kiss” is way too overloaded with effects, especially on the vocals.  The crashing reverb pulls the listener further away form the core of the song. It’s a difficult one to get through, even with repeated listens. The reverb crashes in to the next song, “Hex Girlfriend,” but this manages to keep itself whole, soaring above a crescendo of vocal overdubs and effects. It’s also one of the “classic” chillwave evocative moments on Era Extrana.

Most of the other tracks are strong. “Fallout” is a slow grind, propelled along by faint vocals, and a swash of shimmering sonic soundscapes. There are three instrumental interludes–“Heart: Attack,” “Heart: Decay,” and “Heart: Release”– which are a nice break in the flow. The final track is a bonus, “Arcade Blues,” and sounds like the natural progression from Indian’s 2010 one-off single “Sleep Paralysist.”

Era Extrana is a big leap in songwriting from Neon Indian’s debut, and showcases a buzzworthy band coming into its own.

About Scott Deitche