- Vancouver, British Columbia - Last week I tackled Neon Indian’s first album, Psychic Chasms, and found it to be a delightful psychedelic romp, although I questioned whether Alan Palomo and the band could produce a follow-up that didn’t sound stale and repetitive. To be honest, I already knew the answer because I had already heard the 2011 release, and had long since added it to my album collection. Era Extraña is an astonishingly good album with a feel that is nostalgic and unique at the same time.
Let me give some credit to Palomo here: I mentioned in my review of Psychic Chasms that the album had an alien but sympathetic tone to it, and I heaped on a few other contradicting terms as well. Era Extraña picks up on that as well, at times being abrasive but pleasingly smooth. The new take on New Wave is like coming home after some renovations have been done – it’s familiar territory, but very easy to see the revitalizing energy and intriguing new examinations.
The album opens on “Heart: Attack” which is one of three instrumentals unifying the album; “Heart: Decay” being midway and “Heart: Release” closing out the album. The first single, “Polish Girl,” charges in right after the short opener with a sound very reminiscent of Psychic Chasms, but with a far more refined production and a dancier groove. It’s clear from the onset that Neon Indian has gained considerable experience and wants to expand and build on that. I also heartily recommend the music video, which was my first exposure to the band. It features Palomo’s intense gaze while he grooves with a guitar, and a guy who looks like the ghetto version of Daft Punk trying to impress a girl. It’s a lot of fun.
By the time “The Blindside Kiss” kicks off and “Hex Girlfriend” continues, there’s no question that this is an album strongly influenced by New Wave instead of the psychedelic ramblings of the last. And that’s a good thing. Palomo and company realized the limitations of the music they had done, and incorporated another genre into their repertoire, and New Wave was the logical path to go down given it’s formative contributions to electronic music. Perhaps the song that really demonstrates this homage to New Wave is “Fallout,” which could very easily be done by Depeche Mode.
At this point, the album gets significantly darker, much like the last album. The title track is sad but has a dramatic flair in its keyboard emphasis. “Era Extraña” roughly translates to “strange times” or “she/it was strange” depending on the context, and surprisingly both translations fit the enigmatic and sparse lyrics of the song. If Psychic Chasms was inspired by drugs and the experience of taking them, then Era Extraña could be about the lasting high and the expansion of one’s perceptions – conversely, the drug use could be considered a metaphor for the most intoxicating drug of all: love. “Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)” supports this, as Palomo sings about how he perceives a girl as a bright light, to which he is only a shadow.
The album picks up even higher with the next three tracks. “Future Sick” is a great tune, with an extremely catchy chorus emphasizing Palomo’s singing ability, which as I’ve mentioned before is part of the strength of Neon Indian’s act. “Suns Irrupt” feels like a breaking dawn played in fast forward, on repeat. The mood of the album has reached a crescendo, and Palomo’s pleading voice contrasts subtly against the reverberating synth. Again, Neon Indian’s music takes two contradicting elements but successfully blends them together to be quite pleasing to the ear (almost like Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo sauce blended with Caesar dressing – trust me).
As mentioned earlier, the album closes out on “Heart: Release,” which is one of the strongest closing tracks you could ask for. It starts off ominously with a buildup that leads to a fast-paced tune with an astounding amount of energy. A little melody starts up that conveys innocence and a little light-heartedness. It’s great.
And then…another track. Now, I have nothing against “Arcade Blues,” and in fact I actually dig it quite a bit. It sounds like a Street Fighter-esque video game sound effect was sampled, and the chorus is really quite nice, but why is this after the closing track? I thought maybe it was a bonus track, but I don’t see anything to support that. So I’m a little mystified by the track order at this point, as the song could honestly go anywhere else on this album without being after the closing track.
A marked difference between this album and the last one is that Palomo’s vocals weren’t distorted nearly as much. That was certainly part of the appeal of Psychic Chasms, and lent strongly to the theme, but it just wasn’t needed here. This album was crisper and cleaner, with all traces of lo-fi gone. This is a bit of an improvement to be honest, and I’m quite curious to hear where they’ll go in the future.
Steve’s Track Picks:
Rating: 4.5/5 Sour Grapes