Ever since the term “chillwave” first appeared online, there has been much debate over whether it’s a real genre or not. Despite some of the contempt held towards the term, many artists began accepting it as a way of describing their music. Among those artists who adopted the genre is Texas musician Neon Indian. Originally formed in 2008 by Alan Palomo, Neon Indian became one of those “hype” bands, creating a lot of buzz out of nothing. The blogosphere eagerly anticipated the band’s first release, 2009’s Psychic Chasms, which was met with much acclaim. It really just seemed like a fuzzy psychedelic pop album, but it was the ’80s influence that set it apart as a chillwave album. Now Neon Indian has returned with a new record, whose anticipation rivaled that of Psychic Chasms. This new album, Era Extraña, is at times nothing like its predecessor, and at times exactly like it.
Before the album actually kicks in, you are given “Heart: Attack,” the first in a trilogy of instrumentals, and what seems to serve as an intro. Right from the start, the ’80s influences are apparent. Unlike in Psychic Chasms, the songs here aren’t all uplifting, but rather songs of heartbreak. Due to the presence of this sadness, Era Extraña sounds close to what a lo-fi version of New Order would be like. Starting with “Polish Girl,” it’s clear that once again Palomo lets the electronics do the talking, as his voice is soaked in reverb.
While most of the lyrics are hard to understand, the way Palomo delivers them and the recording quality accompanying them, have given them a sense of lamentation. This new method of delivery differs from that of Psychic Chasms. Instead of sounding confident Palomo actually comes off as heartbroken and vulnerable, with the next two tracks being good examples of that. The moans of “more” in “Blindside Kiss” make the song more emotional and turn it into one of heartbreak. The new wave influences are very visible in “Hex Girlfriend,” which may remind listeners of a hazy version of New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle.”
The two songs that follow unfortunately represent the downfall of the album. It seems that Palomo actually gets lost in his own sadness, and in turn creates a couple of ballads. The first of the two, “Fallout,” suffers from being a really slow starter. The track goes on for almost four minutes and doesn’t hit its stride until about halfway through, but even then it is short-lived. The second slow track, “Era Extraña,” comes off as more of an interlude. Palomo’s vocals are buried so far down in the mix that it almost seems like he’s not even there, and it feels like an instrumental. The album does manage to pick itself back up, but it does so by revisiting Neon Indian’s old sound. The hazy dream-inducing tracks (“Future Sick”) and the choppy synth lines of yore (“Suns Irrupt”) recapture the swagger that Palomo had in Psychic Chasms.
Neon Indian’s new album kicks off with a pretty great new sound but ends up experimenting with sadness a bit too much. Era Extraña is by no means a bad album, but its main problem is that it had so much potential but came up a bit short. If you enjoyed Palomo’s previous record then chances are you’ll find something in here. If you’re really happy with the rise of chillwave then you’ll find something for you. If you wanted some more progression then you’ll find something for you. Problem is you just won’t find too much of it.