Neon Indian - Era Extrana

Palomo’s turned the saturation setting to overload.

Rating: 6

Hmmm. Humour in music. It’s never easy to decipher. Sarcasm is even harder to pull off, especially for Americans. And if comedic undertones can lie tantalisingly out of reach, understanding who’s the butt of the joke can be nigh on impossible. There’s nothing worse than being secretly mocked – the genius of LCD´s ‘Losing My Edge’ was that the very people it exposed as phoneys propelled them to stardom – and it’s increasingly difficult to shake the feeling that somehow, somewhere, we’re being sniggered at. Prime suspect is Alan Palomo.

Even back in 2009, when chillwave began to seep into our collective consciousness, his alter ego, Neon Indian, seemed to want to push the envelope. Whilst contemporaries such as Washed Out and Toro Y Moi created lush, comforting dreamscapes, he employed a brasher palette of strange bleeps and sounds. Instead of lulling you to sleep, it was like being jolted awake and plugged directly into his equipment. He demanded you sit up and listen, particularly on ‘Should Have Taken Acid With You’ and ‘Ephemeral Artery’. There was the occasional come-down number – notably ‘Mind, Drips’ – but in general it was far more suited to the night before the morning after. Returning this year, those others have moved on to lo-fi orchestration and soul-funk grooves respectively: Palomo’s turned the saturation setting to overload.

Everything here sounds thicker and denser, hewn from a conventional pop template. Lyrics feature more prominently, and at it’s best, it works. ‘Polish Girl’ is a pop masterstroke, and if you owned a convertible, you’d want ‘The Blindside Kiss’ on repeat as you streaked along the highway. Even ‘Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)’ has a shiny groove and bubbles along nicely. At it’s worst, however, the feeling is akin to being stuck inside Super Mario on the Atari 5200. ‘Arcade Blues’ even starts with what sounds suspiciously like a sample from some cheesy, 80’s Kung Fu arcade game. Some will undoubtedly love it, but it packs all the subtlety of a brick in the face, and leans way to heavily on some very obvious influences. Close your eyes and you can see the opening credits to a late-night Arnie B-movie as ‘Fallout’ burrows into your brain.

The main problem here is it’s such a strong homage to everything that’s cool about retro-chic that you can’t help but smell a rat. Chillwave max, if you like. That woozy, distorted ambience has been laid on with a trowel, layer after layer, recorded with a synth “invented” specifically for the album. Recall that Ernest Greene and Chaz Bundwick both started out as bedroom wunderkinds, making music to satisfy themselves, and were almost discovered by accident. The same can’t be said for Palomo whose skills as an intelligent and gifted musician run in the family. “Literal” versions of pop classics are all the rage, and if you set out to make a parody of the genre, you’d probably end up with something like this. Is he that condescending and dismissive? Maybe I’m crediting him with a Machiavellian playfulness that’s wide of the mark, but one thing’s for sure: the joke isn’t funny anymore.