Album Review: Neon Indian gets serious with Era Extraña

Era Extraña, Neon Indian’s sophomore album, caps off the summer album season with a psychedelic feel, though written and recorded in just four weeks in a cabin in Helsinki last winter by synthesizer expert and lead singer Alan Palomo.

In 2009, the band debuted with Psychic Chasms, a drugged-out chillwave album characterized by tracks like the goofy laugh-fest of “Laughing Gas” or the tongue-in-cheek “Should Have Taken Acid with You.”

The band reshapes its identity in Era Extraña, showing that it’s more than just a couple of strung-out hipsters, mixing samples on Pro Tools in a smoky basement and searching for the chillest synthesized melody to nod off to. Instead, Era Extraña is an album about love and solitude, the voice of someone staring out into a shining night sky, wondering how one could feel so alone and disconnected in a universe so large.

The album opens with “Heart: Attack,” a surreal collision of computerized noises and reverberating hums reminiscent of a Space Shuttle liftoff – the beginning of a journey. The album’s second single, “Polish Girl,” follows as a psychedelic testament to lost love and ushers in a lovesick, nostalgic feeling that dominates the first half of the album. Songs like “Fallout” and “Hex Girlfriend” further develop this tone. Palomo’s voice sounds distant, blurry against an ocean of looped beats and space-age sound effects as he sings about aged feelings now confined to reminiscence.

The tone changes as the album continues, replacing the focus on longing with a look at what it means to be an individual living in this post-modern, fast-paced world. “Future Sick,” a defining track off the album’s second half, is an abstraction of overlapped electronic echoes balanced with Palomo’s lost voice as he sings about not being able to keep up, being passed by the world and promising “to wake up when things start to get peculiar.”

“Suns Irrupt” interrupts the album’s dreamlike mood. Bleeping synthesizers and vibrating murmurs provide a backdrop to Palomo’s voice singing, “and I wake up,” as he comes to realize after everything that’s been said, that not everything can last and some of what we hold dear must be lost along the way.

Amid swooning beats and sound effects straight from Mortal Kombat, the album closes with “Arcade Blues.” The melancholy but upbeat song is a farewell reminder that while we’ll never be able to escape our regrets, we can at least hope there will be another day to wake up to.

Era Extraña is by no means Neon Indian’s magnum opus, but it is proof that the band is evolving and exploring new themes. While it will deservingly make it to many best album lists this year, it’s only a mere preview of what Neon Indian is capable of producing.