SECOND CHASMS “On this record, it was kind of important to create a space around everything or just kind of feel like it all could be tumbling out of the same room,” says Neon Indian’s Alan Palomo.
Radiohead's Thom Yorke once sang about "how to disappear completely." Chillwave, a genre that blends bedroom-level production values with glowing synth-based atmospherics and vocals focused more on disconnected drizzle than tangible emotion, is the embodiment of that concept. Colored with a neon crayon.
At the forefront is Neon Indian's Alan Palomo: an Afro'd, baby-faced 23-year-old with two acclaimed LPs under his belt, including last month's excellent Era Extrana (Mom + Pop). Palomo was in a tough spot with this sophomore record — after his bedroom-recorded, warped-cassette quality debut, Psychic Chasms, exploded like a land mine on the indie music battlefield back in 2009, this one-man-synth-scientist started to feel the heat of avoiding a follow-up stinker. So he did what any normal, level-headed youngster would do: he ventured to Helsinki in the dead of winter, broke up fights with town drunks, and otherwise sequestered himself in a self-imposed writer's solitary confinement. Where his weed-soaked debut giggled nervously out of the speakers with more style than substance, Era Extrana is refined, well-manicured, and serious. The tracks bear the legendary studio sheen of Flaming Lips boardsman Dave Fridmann — but they also sound more like fully realized songs than charming little retro experiments.
"It was pretty easy on Psychic Chasms to just put this one kind of tape-marbled, fucked-up sheen over everything and kind of let that be the sonic link," Palomo says, chatting on his cell from Los Angeles. "I was tying together a pretty large variety of either samples or just me playing around on my Prophet 08. And I think on this record, it was kind of important to create a space around everything, or just feel like it all could be tumbling out of the same room and imagining what that room could look like."
The way Palomo likes to dissect and analyze his colorful synth-scapes, you'd think the guy was talking shop at a NASA clinic. He's the Kubrick of the keys, the prophet for the Prophet. Only a couple of semesters shy of earning a film degree from the University of North Texas, Palomo approaches his songs with a director's mindset, "more from a concept point or an emotional aesthetic." Instrumentally, he prefers "treating these [synthesizers] sort of as little characters in the song" and crafting beats envisioned as "real drum kits if they were blasting out of a broken TV."
But whereas Era Extrana takes his craft to newfound epic 3D heights, he's also learned how to — gasp! — have fun, too. "It's definitely pretty fun to play these new songs live, because they were designed to be," he adds. "It's weird, you write these songs, especially Psychic Chasms, not knowing whether they'd be performed in front of anybody or, if they did, what it would be. With these, knowing that beforehand is a totally new concept to wrap my head around, especially at 23, being on the second run-around in this whole thing, which has its ups and downs. They [the songs] definitely are a little different, and maybe they'll be different yet again when I sit down to write LP 3, which is already starting to present itself."