Label: Mom + Pop Music
Memory functions in an infinitely regressive, Borgesian sort of way. When we recall past events, our brains don’t retrieve the imprinted, lasting sensations of the original experience from the filing cabinet of the mind as much as they simply remember our most recent remembrance. Thus, truly, is the past “a foreign country,” locked away in a succession of discrete Russian dolls, and our recollections of our past lives only corrupted facsimiles that become more faded, contrived and artificial with every reproduction. Alienated, cut off from all that’s come before, every reflection is as slickly inauthentic as an episode of “Mad Men,” the fraudulent Vietnam-era postcard of Forrest Gump, a hippie musical based on Beatles tunes or the political fantasizing of neo-Reaganites.
Perhaps no one else understands memory as a collective hallucination untethered from its underlying truth better than Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo, whose ’80s-thick, synthetic soundscapes and jokey, distorted-VHS infomercials play on Gen-X and -Y feelings of nostalgia (nostalgia being Greek for “our pain”) better than Hot Tub Time Machine or the latest remake or adaptation of a beloved children’s television show could ever hope to. This go-around, though, not content to rifle through the bargain bin of lo-fi retro culture like a hobo stalker searching for bank records in the trash, Palomo forgoes the sample-heavy approach of debut record Psychic Chasms for a more refined, cultured, crisp and ultimately original approach. Rather than recontextualize samples ad nauseum, he plays up the elegant synth phrasing and vocal hooks to which he is so disposed, and which prolifically people his prior recordings as VEGA, producing a record as refreshing as it remains sonically impenetrable.
A uniquely “future-sick” 23 year-old, Palomo’s purview on Era Extraña marks wide territory within the secluded regions of the heart that take pleasure in the recent past: the album kicks off with 8-bit madness and stark, almost shrill ambience on opener “Heart: Attack,” an instrumental that blows out as quick as it blows in at under a minute before releasing itself to the synth hook and dancefloor bombast of “Polish Girl.” Surrounding himself with cool, breezy synth tones, Palomo muses, “You failed to remember/ Do I still cross your mind?” on the standout track, predicating this line, like so much of the rest of the album, on a vague, noncommittal and distant but not-so-distant past. On “Fall Out,” Palomo descends into a moody, disaffected drawl, the kind that’d make Courtney Taylor-Taylor proud (or pout) while the track recalls the deepest, darkest recesses of early-’90s shoegaze in the Slowdive era and plodding, full-figured gothic new wave as Palomo unabashedly wonders, “If I could fall out of love with you.”
“Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow)” carries M83 unease (think the sinister sighs of “Kim and Jessie”) and bottomed-out vocals while the shimmering, crystalline Scandinavianness of the title track belies the album’s birthing place: the cold reaches of Helsinki, Finland, where Palomo holed up for a month last winter to craft this bedroom emerald of a record. “Suns Irrupt” is more conventionally electronic, pulsing in ever-rising IDM tones and reverb-layered vocals while “Blindside Kiss” is speckled with rough guitar washes that point back toward the time when Kevin Shields was the preeminent guitarist in independent music. As one of three related interstitials, sister to twins “Heart: Attack” and “Heart: Decay,” “Heart: Release” jogs along winding arteries and arterial music mainlines in high-flying percussive antics and interwoven, simple textures, while Era Extraña closer “Arcade Blues” unfolds in Double Dragon-style grunts and glimmeringly new wave, MTV music-vid vocals. A swinging, capering and loungey effort that effectively closes this particular reminisce in a chorus that feels as saccharine, free and warm as the lyrics aren’t (“Pixelled constellations don’t know what they bring/ But it’s not empathy“), the aftertaste is as achingly, psychedelically transient as fame is murkily fleeting, as hurried as critics move on to the “next big thing.” Buzz comes and goes, and only time will tell what legs “chillwave” ultimately has (a stupid name for a genre, if you ask me, and one which Palomo actively resists, to his credit), but Neon Indian will assuredly continue, as long as Alan Palomo has such rich sources as our very memories–imperfect, clouded and inextricably, individually intimate as they are–to mine in this strange era.