When a guy who makes songs about heartbreak and summer goes off on his own to winter at the edge of the world, it's fair to expect some changes. Now just Alan Palomo, Neon Indian has returned with Era Extrana, a follow-up to 2009's Psychic Chasms that has blown his sound up from a the tight confines of an electric sheath into a rapidly-expanding balloon.
Although the debut was well-received, there's so much more variation in Era Extrana, more complexity, a completely different level of production. The simplicity of 'Should Have Taken Acid With' You has taken a step back and intricacy is in. The material of Era Extrana is relatively strong with a lot to be immersed in when contrasting the sound that Neon Indian has moved towards. However the guy has a lot of fans out there who were all about that first album and the changes therein may pose a problem. Released prior to the album, 'Polish Girl' could have easily subverted fans into thinking they were getting more of Psychic Chasms. Sweet, cool and yearning, Palomo's vocal is given a light treatment of reverb and lashings of 80s feelgood. 'Fallout' is darker, brooding and icy, a soundtrack to aurora. As you'd expect with Neon Indian, there are all the signature type of computer samples and the uses of synths in the record are gorgeous, from the simple melodies throughout that run and repeat to the blushes and splashes of sound that seem to pack in every spare second of 'Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)'.
There's an instrumental trio of 'Heart Attack/Heart Decay/Heart Release' which are installed strategically but don't really convince. Era Extrana does seem to labour on the lyrical front: it lacks the subtle insight of 'Psychic Chasms' but retains the same themes, so there's a sense that he's sung those sentiments to death: amorous references that do appear seem to be more out of a habit for writing love-songs. A highlight comes in third track 'The Blindside Kiss', a guitar-driven, shoegaze blaze, vastly different and yet highly accomplished. In fact, when Palomo dropped the nice guy act for direct statements of 'The Blindside Kiss', he got the perfect taunting/teasing tone to the lyrics that seems to be missing on the rest of the album. It's followed by 'Hex Girlfriend' which sounds magic until the title is revealed to come from a forced rhyme: "Stupid face looking so perplexed / Seeming like it was caught in a hex".
Other highlights include the disembodied title-track Era Extrana, the magnificent, polyrhythmic Suns Irrupt and final gem, Arcade Blues which is almost completely removed from the rest of Era Extrana and sounds like some strange single that was caught between the two albums.
There's a sense of looking for depth, longing and fulfillment in making these new songs. By staying true to the electro-pop roots, Palomo never loses the run of himself but he's certainly trying to break out of his ascertained gravitational field to explore open space in order to create more finerly-layered constructs.