In early fall 2009, Lady Gaga hadn’t released The Fame Monster yet, Katy Perry was only known for kissing a girl, and “chillwave” was a completely new word for a new genre of music. Washed Out and Toro y Moi, two of the most well-known chillwave artists, had just released Life of Leisure and Causers of This, and bloggers were using the term to describe their lo-fi, blippy, danceable beats that relied heavily on reverb and looping. When Alan Palomo (the man behind Neon Indian) released Psychic Chasms that winter, his songs fit the definition and it only made sense to add him to the roster.
Washed Out and Toro y Moi both released rock-solid albums earlier this year. These guys seem set out to prove that chillwave isn’t some short-lived gimmicky genre. With Neon Indian’s sophomore effort, Era Extraña, set to come out after the other two chillwave kings, the pressure was on for poor Alan Palomo. Thankfully, it looks like he’s one of those people that work better under pressure.
Era Extraña is a real album. Alan Palomo grew up in the last two years. Unlike Psychic Chasms, which sounded like (and pretty much was) a mixtape of songs Palomo wrote in his bedroom, this sophomore effort plays like a focused, cohesive statement. Its short tracks, “Heart: Attack,” “Heart: Decay,” and “Heart: Release,” pull together strong tracks that I’m sure will top “Best of 2011” lists in a few months.
The familiar Neon Indian sounds are all still there: sometimes the album sounds like a video game, sometimes it sounds like someone’s sitting on a synthesizer. Sometimes it sounds like the soundtrack to a sci-fi movie, sometimes it sounds like summer. “Fallout” sounds like nostalgia and M83 remixed, and “Polish Girl” has a tight repeating keyboard line that makes it a perfect single.
I’m sure a lot of Palomo’s growth can be chalked up to the fact that Era Extraña was mixed by Dave Fridmann, who is known for his work with bands like MGMT and The Flaming Lips. But I don’t want that to be the only reason that Era Extraña is so strong. I think Palomo, along with his fellow chillwave artists, has something to prove: that chillwave, and its ridiculous name, are here to stay.