Era Extraña, Neon Indian
Mom + Pop, USA
by Blanca Méndez
When I first heard that Alan Palomo would be retreating to Finland to record the follow-up to Psychic Chasms, my mind immediately leapt to images of Finland’s breathtakingly sparse beauty, of endless stretches of desolate landscapes, icy waters, and, of course, fjords. (Fjords!) I wondered what this would mean for Neon Indian’s sound, one that on Psychic Chasms was the opposite of the images that the mention of Finland had conjured for me. I was intrigued by the idea of more stripped-down soundscapes because, as much fun as it was, I had grown weary of Psychic Chasms with its unrestrained noise and carefree energy. It was just too summer for my liking. I knew Palomo had more to say, and he definitely proves me right with the perfectly-timed release of Era Extraña.
Palomo clearly, if abstractly, conceptualized this album as one about the stark, yet comfortable, loneliness of heartbreak. Mapped out by the checkpoints of “Heart: Attack,” “Heart: Decay,” and “Heart: Release,” Era Extraña loosely follows the story arc of a breakup. “The Blindside Kiss” occurs in the staying-at-home-and-staring-at-ceilings early stage, the one in which you allow yourself to wallow in the pain because you deserve at least that much. The tinny layers of sound and breathy, almost frustrated vocals convey that feeling of utter loss beautifully. Then “Hex Girlfriend,” as the title suggests, resents that curse of an ex-girlfriend for putting you through this and being perfectly okay with putting you through this.
“Heart: Decay” signals the beginning of the it-has-to-get-worse-before-it-gets-better period. “Fallout,” with its disconcertingly monotone vocals, is a plea to forget (“please let me fall out of love with you”), while the title track is the first glimmer of hope. The three songs that follow (“Halogen,” “Future Sick,” and “Suns Irrupt”) all represent a different kind of letting go. “Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow)” is a spectacularly enveloping piece, with steady, comforting percussion, delicate, inviting synths, and vintage girl group-evoking background vocals. All of these elements, while seemingly subdued, build a gorgeous vessel for ecstatic release. True to the typical post-breakup storyline, “Future Sick” is a bit of a regression. It wants to retreat back into the past and into itself because thinking of the future is literally inducing sickness. But Palomo manages to pull through, with “Heart: Release” as a sigh of relief and timid first step forward. “Arcade Blues” is a nice little bonus track to remind us (in case we weren’t already reminded by all of the previous tracks) of Palomo’s penchant for video games.
In many ways Era Extraña is a far more serious album than its predecessor. Thematically, it tackles heavier topics and emotionally it explores much deeper than Psychic Chasms. It has a more defined concept and narrative and approaches the experience of heartbreak, which countless of artists have undertaken in their art, in a way that hasn’t really been done before. At least not in the precise and nuanced way that Palomo has. Perhaps the most notable difference, most noteworthy growth, is in the album’s production. Even though there are still just as many elements this time around, they are much more refined, much better orchestrated, and much more indicative of Palomo as an artist. When you speak to him you get the sense that there’s so much going on in his head, but he somehow filters all of it into thoughtful, articulate, and engaging conversation, which is exactly what he did with Era Extraña.