A bedrock album of the loosely defined electronic music genre known (derisively, in some quarters) as “chillwave,” Neon Indian’s 2009 debut, Psychic Chasms, was an unassuming collection of smudged, psychedelic synth-pop songs seemingly inspired by old training-video soundtracks and secondhand ’80s pop mix-tapes. It was breezy, featherweight fun, and hardly worth the knee-jerk contentiousness that chillwave acts tend to inspire. Psychic Chasms was likeable, but also ephemeral—the very definition of music with nothing at stake.
Era Extraña has the trappings of a weightier effort, with Neon Indian mastermind Alan Palomo expanding on the handmade soundscapes of Psychic Chasms with producer Dave Fridmann, who has a long history of shepherding small-time indie-rockers into the recording big leagues. But while Era Extraña sounds a bit fuller—the tinkling keyboard riff of “Polish Girl” rings out with greater clarity, and the vocals on “Future Slick” are creamier—the album is basically Psychic Chasms Part II. That isn’t a bad thing to be, though like most sequels, it’s less satisfying than its predecessor.
Era Extraña isn’t served well by coming out a few months after Within And Without, the elegant full-length debut by Palomo’s chillwave counterpart Ernest Greene of Washed Out. 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. The breathy “Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)” alludes to the seductive pop of the early-’80s New Romantic movement, but Palomo doesn’t totally commit to the lush sound this music requires. Era Extraña still has plenty of hooks to offer, but Palomo has to take both feet out of the bedroom to move his music forward.