|Studio album by Neon Indian|
|Released||September 7, 2011|
|Recorded||Winter 2010 – 2011|
|Neon Indian chronology|
Era Extraña is the second studio album by American electronic music band Neon Indian, released on September 7, 2011 by Static Tongues and Mom + Pop Music. It was recorded between the winter of 2010 and 2011 during frontman Alan Palomo's visit to Finland. Containing influences and elements of psychedelic pop, shoegaze and new wave, the album has the same summery sound as the band's debut studio album, Psychic Chasms, but with a darker and more serious tone.
The record was generally well received by critics, with some reviewers calling it more focused, tight and cohesive than Psychic Chasms and some praising the songcraft. However, some mixed reviews noted that on this album, Neon Indian lost much of the charm that was apparent on Psychic Chasms. The album peaked at No. 74 on the US Billboard 200, the band's first release to appear on the chart.
The album was recorded from the winter of 2010 to 2011 at Kalevankatu 45 in Helsinki, Finland, where Palomo was living for four weeks. Palomo primarily wrote the album using a Voyetra-8, a Korg MS-20 and a modified Commodore 64, and the first weeks of production in Helsinki involved him learning this equipment. Palomo first saw the Voyetra-8 in the music video for New Order's "The Perfect Kiss", saying that he was amazed by its appearance: "It's this bizarre, kaleidoscope interface with these knobs, and it's really physical to use, a strange kind of challenge". Palomo's songwriting on Era Extraña was more influenced by his live performances than his previous projects, and he claimed that he had never expected to perform his songs live before. He said, "It was an influence; not so much something that limited me, but a feeling that lead to longer, more soundscape-driven songs. That was something that was undeniably in my mind: 'What would I want to be playing every night for eight months?' And the album evolved from there".
Unlike the previous album, which involved creating "microloops" that involved building up one-bar samples into multiple bars that would make up a full song, Palomo said that in composing this album, he recorded a riff from a sound he made and tried to "keep that momentum up". On Era Extraña, in order to develop ideas he was having while recording the record, it was necessary for him to have more control of the effects and instruments he was using for the album. Making the album helped him learn how to create synth sounds and become a "gear geek", instead of relying on presets as he did with his previous works. He said, "The more tedious aspects of production do have the capacity to take the wind out of your sails, so you always have to navigate through that as quickly as you can before you start feeling burnt on the song, before you forget that initial spark that made you even want to write it in the first place".
Era Extraña is significantly influenced by psychedelic pop, shoegaze and new wave. Clash reviewer Nick Levine described the album as a loud indietronica record and "chillwave that's not actually that, well, chilled", joking that the album's genre should be marked as "drillwave". Its instrumentation is cluttered with unsteady synth arrangements, as well as stray sounds of rocket-ship noises, phone conversations, laser sounds and visceral samples of video games, but the music still manages to be tight. As Drowned in Sound reviewer Robert Cooke explained, the retro video game samples were used as "incidental noise, or miniature musical experiments", and the record also included the "sparkling synths and wide-eyed wonder" of M83's more pop-sounding material that makes it sound like "a soundtrack for an Eighties teen movie about surfers from space" rather than just "Nintendo-sponsored masturbation". Spin reviewer Nick Murray also compared some of the songs to M83, describing other tracks as "one Martin Rushent assist away from being genuine synth-pop hits".
Era Extraña has the same lazy summer vibe as Psychic Chasms, but with a more serious and slightly darker tone. In a PopMatters review, Nathan Wisnicki said that Palomo's "introversion is certainly apparent, and even the record's sprightliest melodies are rigidly grafted to both rhythmic thrust and hooks more anxious than comfortable". Pitchfork's Larry Fitzmaurice said that the album is much more serious than Psychic Chasms, but "Palomo isn't always as assured in rendering the darker material". He also noted that while it wasn't exactly a breakup album, it did sound "romantic and lovesick" and uses sounds that emulate these feelings. At the same time, the album also feels "expansive and lonely, like someone staring at the night sky in solitude". Era Extraña also contains the same unsteady synth riffs, filtered drums and vocal hooks as Psychic Chasms, with the addition of crunchy, fuzzy guitars; thick analog synths; and a lot of reverb, as well as much clearer production.
Era Extraña is connected by three brief, wispy instrumental interludes: "Heart: Attack", "Heart: Decay" and "Heart: Release". "Attack" opens the album "like a 200-foot-tall Game Boy loading up", according to Cooke. It starts with 8-bit particles coming to a "celestial boil" in the first few seconds, followed up by "what the birth of the universe must have sounded like had the Big Bang occurred inside the original Nintendo Entertainment System", according to Paste critic Wyndham Wyeth. "Decay" starts the "it-has-to-get-worse-before-it-gets-better" phase of the post-breakup period that is present on the album, while "Release" ends the album with relief, yet also a fearful first step forward from a breakup. Heather Phares of Allmusic said that out of all of the songs on the record, these three tracks, along with "Future Sick", sound the most similar to Psychic Chasms.
Fitzmaurice found "Polish Girl" to be similar to the song "Reunion" by Canadian band Stars, as both songs depict someone trying to recover, and yearning for, young love. Palomo asks questions in the song that are likely to be unanswered, such as "Do I still cross your mind?/ Your face still distorts the time". Cooke noted the "dazzling syncopated pulse" to be similar to the coin sound effect in games from the Mario series, and has melodies that "splash and slide around sickly-sweet flurries of arpeggios and a family-friendly feel-good beat". Blurt said that the song includes what sounds like samples from the game Super Mario World, and has the joyful energy of Cut Copy's album Zonoscope. Beats per Minute writer Aurora Mitchell said the song "sounds like 80s disco distorted through an old computer", while AllMusic noted the song sounded more like Palomo's other project Vega than Neon Indian. "The Blindside Kiss" includes elements of alternative rock, grunge and garage rock. Club Fonograma writer Blanca Méndez said that "The Blindside Kiss" is about the "staying-at-home-and-staring-at-ceilings early stage" of a breakup, which is "the one in which you allow yourself to wallow in the pain because you deserve at least that much". Méndez noted the song's "tinny layers of sound" and Palomo's "breathy, almost frustrated vocals". The electro-shoegaze song "Hex Girlfriend" addresses an ex-girlfriend, and includes video game synth timbres similar to those on Psychic Chasms opener "(AM)". Both "The Blindside Kiss" and "Hex Girlfriend" are filled with "buzzsaw"-toned guitars, which BBC Music's John Aizlewood compared to the Jesus and Mary Chain.
The Depeche Mode-style "cavernous Anglophile disco" song "Fallout" is about trying to forget a failed relationship, with Palomo asking the subject to "please let me fall out of love with you". Palomo sounds unreachable on this song, like "a lonely planet boy sending out distress signals from the saddest corner of the solar system", said Rolling Stone critic Jon Dolan. Wisnicki said there was "a haunting vagueness" to the song's slow pace, with the song's "subtle synth-disguised-as-choir tactics used to help the song break unexpectedly from slow Joy Division-esque pummel to a bridge that reaches into bliss…if only for a few seconds". DIY's Dani Beck and Derek Robertson said that the track sounded like music for the opening credits of a late-night Arnold Schwarzenegger B-movie, while Phares said it could have been recorded by Love and Rockets or Billy Idol back in the 1980s. Both "Fallout" and "Halogen" contain dramatic keyboard riffs inspired by the music of Duran Duran. The title track represents a first post-breakup sign of hope. Dramatic, clattering drums are present on this track, and musicOMH reviewer Ben Hogwood compared its heavy, firm beat to Ultravox's "Vienna". Aizlewood noted that the song resembles "Out of Touch" by Hall & Oates.
The three following songs, "Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow)", "Future Sick", and "Suns Irrupt", follow three different types of forgetting a breakup. Reminiscent of music released in the New Romanticism period, "Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow)" was described by Méndez as "a spectacularly enveloping piece," with its somber instrumentation of "steady, comforting percussion, delicate, inviting synths, and vintage girl group-evoking background vocals" resulting in "a gorgeous vessel for ecstatic release". Fitzmaurice described it as the "near-double" of "Kim and Jessie" by M83, Aizlewood compared the song to the works of the Thompson Twins, while Phares said the song sounded like music that would "play over the credits of a sci-fi teen sex comedy". With its "seasick synths" as well as "bits of arena rock guitar and girlish harmonies", the heavy, playfully sad "Future Sick" manages to convey "the feeling of growing older in a world that's growing faster than you are". It depicts Palomo lamenting "mid-volume under his own creation's drunken abstraction" about wanting to go back into the past, because thinking of the future is making him ill. It is at this point where, according to The Observer, some of the wooziness that Era Extraña takes from Psychic Chasms "veers into nausea". Mitchell described the instrumentation of "Suns Irrupt" as "hypnotic and firework fizzling synths with a woozy synth background". Palomo repeatedly whisper-growls the line "sSuns irrupt / I wake up I wake up", and Fitzmaurice compared its repetitiveness to "Someone Great" by LCD Soundsystem.
Release and promotion
The limited edition package for Era Extraña came with the Pal198X, a mini analog synthesizer created by Palomo and the company Bleep Labs. With three oscillators, including two triangle waves and a square low-frequency oscillator, it is a modified version of the company's synth kit Pico Paso, with the addition of swappable controls. Some releases of the vinyl deluxe edition of Era Extraña also came with a 47-minute untitled mixtape, with only the text Neon Indian Mixtape labeled on the disc. The blog Disco Naïveté said that many of the mixtape tracks could have served as influences for Palomo in making Era Extraña. A 42-date North American tour for Era Extraña was announced on December 6, 2011. It premiered on December 31 at the Lights All Night festival in Dallas, Texas, and ended with a show at New York City's Terminal 5 on May 12, 2012.
|The A.V. Club||B−|
|Tiny Mix Tapes|||
Era Extraña received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 76, based on 27 reviews. and an aggregate 7.2 out of ten on the site AnyDecentMusic?. On year-end lists, it came in at No. 50 on Under the Radar's list of their top 80 albums of 2011, and No. 16 on Stereogum's list.
Some reviewers praised Era Extraña for being more focused, tight and cohesive than Psychic Chasms. Phares said that while it did not have the same homespun charm as Psychic Chasms, it showed that the project could be more than just a chillwave group. Fitzmaurice called it "a commitment to tighter, wide-reaching songcraft and appeal", also praising the "kitchen-sink arrangements" for still sounding "taut and defined". Wyeth said that Palomo made a fluid album with Era Extraña, something intended but not properly achieved on the project's last studio album.
Hogwood called it a "fascinating listen, borne of a man who clearly has an extremely active imagination". He praised the hooks, the witty and thoughtful lyrics, and the unpredictable harmonic structures, also noting that the album turned the building blocks of the tracks from the last album "into very appealing little morsels", aiding listeners with short attention spans. In Consequence of Sound's 4-star review, Mohammad Choudhery wrote that "Where Psychic Chasms was a shy and fragmented collection of songs – very much a product of our era of bedroom production, Extraña is a confident, all-inclusive album that people/bloggers will be pretty hard pressed to fence into a single, silly-titled subgenre". NME critic Anne T. Donahue rated the album 8 of 10, labeling it as "a lesson in how to execute electronic music properly". In Mitchell's 79%-rated review, he called it "electronic [music] in its purest form". He said that the flow of the album was not as smooth as Psychic Chasms, but that Palomo's influences were "in all the right places and it seems that [he] is wearing them proudly on his sleeve".
Aizlewood found Era Extraña to be an intriguing yet unusual record, but disliked the lack of "obvious emotion", calling the album overall "easy to admire but hard to love". Tiny Mix Tapes called it "an agreeable listening experience with moments of catchiness and beauty throughout, and hints of an evolutionary path that leave future expectations open-ended". Dolan calling it an improvement on Psychic Chasms and that it dunks "dreamy early-MTV haircutband balladry in layers of psychedelic schmutz, almost hiding excellent songs in the murk". Olly Parker, a reviewer for Loud and Quiet, also called it an improvement and praised the album's songcraft and interesting sound, but said it fell in the "meh" category and "can't get below the surface". Cooke opined that "it has a lot to offer around the edges, but is difficult to truly connect with at its core", reasoning that the album is not the best example of cutting-edge modern-day pop music, nor does it contribute anything new to electronic music.
In more mixed reviews, The A.V. Club critic Steven Hyden wrote that while Era Extraña sounds "fuller" than Psychic Chasms and "still has plenty of hooks to offer", Palomo "has to take both feet out of the bedroom to move his music forward". He also compared it to another chillwave album that was released a few months before, Washed Out's Within And Without, saying that "Where Within is an immaculately conceived graduation from [Ernest] Greene's early lo-fi work, Extraña is a minor refinement that still feels chintzy in places". Beck and Robertson also discussed Washed Out, as well as Toro y Moi, dubbing the album an unfunny parody of chillwave and also criticized it as "such a strong homage to everything that's cool about retro-chic that you can't help but smell a rat". At PopMatters, Wisnicki wrote that Era Extraña did not have the same quality tunes and aesthetic that Psychic Chasms had, declaring that while each song on Psychic Chasms "felt like getting to open another piece of candy", Era Extraña "feels more like opening one of those refrigerated boxed sandwiches from the grocery store".
All tracks written by Alan Palomo, except where noted.
|3.||"The Blindside Kiss" (Palomo, Joshua McWhirter)||3:35|
|8.||"Halogen (I Could Be a Shadow)"||4:37|
|Japanese edition bonus tracks|
|13.||"Eras Ending Above Us"||4:48|
|18.||"(If I Knew, I'd Tell You)"||0:48|
|19.||"6669 (I Don't Know If You Know)"||3:21|
|20.||"Should Have Taken Acid with You"||2:21|
Credits adapted from the liner notes of Era Extraña.
- Alan Palomo – arrangement, performer, production
- Aaron Brown – album art
- Rob Carmichael – design, layout
- Ben Chappell – album art
- Adam Corbesmeyer – bass (track 4)
- Jason Faries – percussion (track 6)
- Dave Fridmann – additional production, mixing
- Jezy Gray – guitar (track 6)
- David Jacobs – management
- Joshua McWhirter – guitar (tracks 3, 5–7, 10)
- Claudius Mittendorfer – mixing (tracks 1, 2, 7, 8)
|Japanese Albums (Oricon)||193|
|US Billboard 200||74|
|US Independent Albums (Billboard)||16|
|US Top Alternative Albums (Billboard)||12|
|US Top Dance/Electronic Albums (Billboard)||4|
|US Top Rock Albums (Billboard)||21|
|Japan||September 7, 2011||CD||Yoshimoto R and C|||
|Australia||September 9, 2011||Popfrenzy|||
|Germany||September 12, 2011||Digital download||Transgressive|||
|United States||September 13, 2011||
|United Kingdom||October 3, 2011||CD||Transgressive|||
|Germany||October 7, 2011||
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