A second album that’s easy to admire but hard to love.
John Aizlewood 2011-09-20
A chum of Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann, who remixed and co-produced Era Extraña, Alan Palomo (aka Neon Indian, also the name of the full band) is such a hip name to drop that his clattering, multi-layered electro-pop has spawned a new genre, still unsure whether to call itself: hypnagogic pop, perhaps, or glo-fi, or chillwave…
However one categorises his material, the debut Neon Indian album, 2009's Psychic Chasms, was a head-spinning affair which sampled 70s maverick Todd Rundgren without sounding especially dated; at its heart was the heroic Should've Taken Acid With You. For Era Extraña, the Spanish-speaking 22-year-old son of Mexican pop star Jorge Palomo fled to – of all places – Helsinki, where he wrote and recorded these tracks, which are joined and linked by three brief instrumentals: Heart: Attack, Heart: Decay and Heart: Release. The cultural shock of the Mexico-born, Texas-raised artist moving to the Arctic chill of a Finnish winter may have been seismic, but there's no hint of Scandinavian despair to be heard. Instead, he's opened up, owned up to more of his musical influences (but not everything, his samples still twisted into proceedings with undetectable elegance), and crafted something as intriguing as it is unusual.
Palomo claims, perhaps not entirely truthfully, that Era Extraña is a search for the meaning of cyberpunk; but even the title, a Spanish wordplay on "strange" and "longing", is elusive. More certainly, his English vocals are buried deep in the mix and the feel is positively filmic, be it on the unashamedly 80s title-track which almost bursts into Hall & Oates' Out of Touch, or the more sombre Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow) which, perhaps for the first time this century, makes you wonder just what happened to the Thompson Twins.
Suns Irrupt is packed with taped distortion but retains its cohesion despite myriad samples; while the buzzsaw-guitar-swamped Hex Girlfriend and The Blindside Kiss remind us how influential The Jesus and Mary Chain have been. Polish Girl is as endearingly plinky as they come, and the closing Arcade Blues is the closest Palomo comes to whistle-in-the-bath pop.
If there is downside to Era Extraña, it’s that it is easy to admire but hard to love – for all of the fine craft on display, there’s little obvious emotion. No matter, though, as there’s room for everyone, and this makes for ideal driving music and it should sound sensational in a club. Whatever Palomo does next, it should be fascinating.