|Studio album by Neon Indian|
|Released||September 7, 2011|
|Neon Indian chronology|
Era Extraña is the second studio album by American electronic music band Neon Indian. Recorded in the winter of 2010–11 during Palomo's visit to Finland, it was released on September 7, 2011 by Static Tongues and Mom + Pop Music. Containing influences and elements of psychedelic pop, shoegaze, and new wave, the break-up album has the same sound and summer-y feel that was on 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 song crafting. However, there were some mixed reviews disliking that the album lost much of the charm that was on Chasms. The album peaked at number 74 on the American Billboard 200, and was the project's first release to appear on the chart.
The album was recorded during the winter of 2010–11 at Kalevankatu 45 in Helsinki, Finland, where frontman Alan 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 him making the album 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 the appearance of it: "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 influenced from his live performances more so than his previous projects, saying that he had never expected to perform his songs live before: "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 last 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 a necessity to have a bit more control of the effects and instruments he was using for the album. Making the album helped him know how to create synth sounds and become a "gear geek", instead of relying on presets as he did with his previous works. A lot of planning came into having each song just "come out", reasoning that "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 majorly influenced from psychedelic pop, shoegaze, and new wave music. Nick Levine of the magazine Clash 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 regardless. As Drowned in Sound reviewer Robert Cooke explains, the retro video game samples are used as "incidental noise, or miniature musical experiments," and the record also includes the "sparkling synths and wide-eyed wonder" of M83’s more pop-sounding material that makes it sound like music for a 1980's film about surfers from space, rather than just "Nintendo-sponsored masturbation." Nick Murray, in his review for the magazine Spin, also called some of the songs similar to M83, while saying the other tracks "sound 25 years old" and are "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." Fitzmaurice said that the album is much more serious than Chasms, but "Palomo isn't always as assured in rendering the darker material." He also said 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 that were on 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 together 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 Drowned in Sound. It starts with 8-bit particles coming up to a "celestial boil" in the first few seconds, before following that up with "what the birth of the universe must have sounded like had the Big Bang occurred inside the original Nintendo Entertainment System", according to Paste. "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 off 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" 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." Drowned in Sound's Robert 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 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 said the song "sounds like 80s disco distorted through an old computer", while Allmusic noted the song sounded more like Palomo's 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 notes the song's "tinny layers of sound" and Palomo's "breathy, almost frustrated vocals" presents its feel "beautifully." The electro-shoegaze song “Hex Girlfriend", hence the title, follows him aggrieving towards an ex-girlfriend being alright for putting him through this pain, and includes video-game-style synth timbres that were on the opening track of Chasms, "(AM)". Both "The Blindside Kiss" and "Hex Girlfriend" are filled with "buzzsaw"-toned guitars, and BBC Music found them to be as influential as the works of Scottish band 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 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. Popmatters 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." Two reviewers from the magazine DIY said the track sounded like music for the opening credits of a late-night Arnold Schwarzenegger B-movie, and Allmusic said this song could've been made by Love and Rockets or even Billy Idol back in the 1980s. Both "Fallout" and "Halogen" contain dramatic keyboard riffs inspired by the music of Duran Duran. The title track "Era Extraña" represents a first sign of hope of a post-breakup. Dramatic, clattering drums are present on this track, with musicOMH comparing the song's heavy, firm beat to that of Ultravox‘s song Vienna. BBC Music noted the song is close to sounding like "Out of Touch" by the duo 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" otherwise resulting in "a gorgeous vessel for ecstatic release." Fitzmaurice described it as the "near-double" of "Kim and Jessie" by M83, musicOMH saying the whispery chorus of "Halogen" equivalent to "Kim and Jessie". BBC Music compared the song to the works of the Thompson Twins, while Allmusic said the song sounded like music that would play during the credits of a science-fiction teen sex comedy film. With its "seasick synths" as well as "bits of arena rock guitar and girlish harmonies", the heavy-sounding, playfully sad “Future Sick” "conveys 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, saying that he'll wake up once everything starts to get odd. It's that this point where, according to The Observer, some of the wooziness that Era Extraña takes from Chasms "veers into nausea." "Suns Irrupt" has an instrumentation of "hypnotic and firework fizzling synths with a woozy synth background". Palomo repeatedly whisper-growls the line “Suns irrupt / I wake up I wake up”, the repetitiveness of the song similar 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 hugest addition being 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 tracks of the mixtape might've been influences for Alan 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 venue on May 12, 2012.
|The A.V. Club||B−|
|Tiny Mix Tapes|||
Era Extraña garnered generally positive reviews from music critics, receiving a weighted mean of a 76 out of 100 from Metacritic, based on 27 reviews, and an aggregate 7.2 out of ten on the site AnyDecentMusic?. On year-end lists, it came in at number 50 on Under the Radar's list of their top 80 albums of 2011, while on Stereogum's list, it was number 16. Some reviewers praised Era Extraña to be more focused, tight and cohesive than Psychic Chasms. Allmusic journalist Heather Phares said that while it didn't have the same homespun charm as Chasms did, it showed that the project could be more than just a chillwave group. Pitchfork Media's Larry Fitzmaurice called it "a commitment to tighter, wide-reaching songcraft and appeal", also praising the "kitchen-sink arrangements" for still managing to sound "taut and defined". Wyndham Wyeth of Paste said that Palomo made a fluid album with Era Extraña, something that the project's last studio album seemingly intended to do but didn't do properly.
musicOMH reviewer Ben Hogwood called it a "fascinating listen, borne of a man who clearly has an extremely active imagination." He praised the hooks, the witty and well though-out lyrics and the unpredictable harmonic structure, also noting that the album turned the building blocks of the tracks from the last LP "into very appealing little morsels", which would help listeners with short attention spans get into the record. In Consequence of Sound's four-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 gave the album an eight of out ten, labeling it as "a lesson in how to execute electronic music properly." Aurora Mitchell, writing a 79%-rated review for the site Beats per Minute, called it "electronic [music] in its purest form." He said that the flow of the album wasn't as smooth as Chasms, but did admire that Palomo's influences were "in all the right places and it seems that Alan Palomo is wearing them proudly on his sleeve."
John Aizlewood, a critic for BBC Music, found Era Extraña to be an intriguing yet unusual record, but disliked the lack of "obvious emotion", calling the LP overall "easy to admire but hard to love". Tiny Mix Tapes critic 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." Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone awarded it three-and-a-half stars out of five, calling it an improvement from Chasms and saying the record 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, but for unknown reasons; he did praise the song crafting and interesting sound of the album, but said it fell in the "meh" territory and "can’t get below the surface." He also wrote that he originally planned to score it a three out of ten for being average, but felt it was more deserving to give it a seven for that same reason. A similar sediment of that review was shared with Robert Cooke of Drowned in Sound, who opined that "It has a lot to offer around the edges, but is difficult to truly connect with at its core." His reasoning was that the album isn't the best example in how to make 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 graded Era Extraña a B−, writing that while the album sound "fuller" than Psychic Chasms and "still has plenty of hooks to offer," he concluded the review by saying that "Palomo has to take both feet out of the bedroom to move his music forward." He also compared it to another chillwave that was released a few months before, Washed Out's Within And Without, saying that "Where Within is an immaculately conceived graduation from Greene’s early lo-fi work, Extraña is a minor refinement that still feels chintzy in places." DIY's Dani Beck and Derek Robertson also discussed Washed Out, as well as Toro y Moi, in their six-out-of-ten review, which called 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." In a five-out-of-ten review for Popmatters, Nathan Wisnicki wrote that Era Extraña didn't have the same tunes and aesthetic that Psychic Chasms had, analogizing 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 songs written and composed 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 – writing, arrangement, performer, production
- Dave Fridmann – additional production, mixing
- Joshua McWhirter – guitar on "The Blindside Kiss", "Heart: Decay", "Fallout", "Era Extraña" and "Suns Irrupt", co-writing on "The Blindside Kiss"
- Claudius Mittendorfer – mixing on "Heart: Attack", "Polish Girl", "Era Extraña" and "Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)",
- David Jacobs – management
- Adam Korbesmeyer – bass on "Hex Girlfriend"
- Jason Faries – percussion on "Fallout"
- Jezy Gray – guitar on "Fallout"
- Aaron Brown, Ben Chappell – cover artwork
- Rob Carmichael – cover art design, layout
|Japanese Albums Chart||193|
|US Billboard 200||74|
|US Alternative Albums||12|
|US Dance/Electronic Albums||4|
|US Independent Albums||16|
|US Top Rock Albums||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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