It should be read as a good sign if an artist can move on quickly from a successful debut to a completed second album. Still more so if said artist can expand their sound, try some experimentation, and still retain what made us enjoy them in the first place.
Such is the case with Alan Palomo and his merry men, who are making Neon Indian into rather a versatile electronic outfit. Whereas the first album featured appealing nuggets of electronica, funk and chilled pop, Era Extraña, which we take here to mean ‘strange era’, includes more vocals, more variety, and even more pop-based weirdness.
The strange era would seem to be the 1980s – at least that’s where the album is headed in its second half. The title track itself carries a heavy beat the like of which supplied the concrete supports to Ultravox‘s Vienna. Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow) is bathed in sunshine, its whispered chorus drawing admiring parallels with M83‘s Kim And Jessie, while Arcade Blues goes a step further and carries vocal similarities to Prefab Sprout, channelled through the wispy outlines where pop and psychedelia meet. Fallout takes a step back, meanwhile, keeping big beats but toning the vocals down to a whisper.
It is an unexpected turn for the record to take, but by no means an unwelcome one for a work that starts with the positive bounce of Polish Girl and the sighing refrain of the dreamy The Blindside Kiss. Maybe the rarefied Helsinki air had a lasting effect on the Mexican-born Palomo. He even admits to having had a fight in a bar there, which given the enchanting charms of this music feels an unlikely proposition.
A lot has been made of how Neon Indian are ‘chillwave’. Well that term can swiftly be consigned to history with this second record, for it takes the building blocks of the first album and chops them into very appealing little morsels. If you have a short attention span this will be a good thing, for each song – as we can now call them – contains hooks aplenty, unexpected harmonic twists and turns and lyrical couplets that are both witty and well thought out. Hex Girlfriend is the perfect example here, its opening electronics gyrating with exaggerated movements until Palomo comes in to offer the catchy chorus, “does it make you feel alright?”, which is in turn followed by sparkling electronics.
A special mention should go to Dave Fridmann, whose CV gets another impressive notch with this sonic treat. It’s the icing on the cake for a fascinating listen, borne of a man who clearly has an extremely active imagination. Make no mistake; there is a lot more quality to come from this source.