Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Record Store Day (RSD) has become an audiophile’s Christmas since its inception in 2008, celebrating independently owned record stores with exclusive titles and limited-edition releases from everyone from The Beatles to Arcade Fire.
Alan Palomo, Neon Indian’s oddball brain, is literally one week older
than me, according to his Wikipedia page (note to self: Build my own
Wikipedia page). This boggles my mind, although it really shouldn’t. The
bands building these synth-thick, shoegazey, beat-propelled chillwave
albums are all kids screwing around on the Internet (see: Washed Out,
Youth Lagoon, Toro Y Moi), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise then to
find out that they like to also sometimes record really cheeky, very fun
Case in point: “Era Extraña.” After 2009’s laughable, infectious debut album, “Psychic Chasms,” Palomo’s dropped into minor keys, thickened the wall of sound and reinforced his drum machines for greater impact. All signs in this description point to some bizarre, electronic-Goth-dance hybrid, but I’ve left out one important sonic quality that turns that on its head: analog video-game melodies.
Literally, opening track “Heart: Attack” sounds like you’re being born into some early ’90s arcade, twinkling with all the bleeps and bloops you can recall just as clearly as the potent mix of greasy pizza crust and floor sanitizer that permeated every restaurant you loved as a kid. The melodies range from clear-as-day distinct (“Polish Girl,” an early highlight and probably the best track here, and “Halogen [I Can Be a Shadow]” both show off Palomo’s flair for pop), to murky and alluring (back-to-back tracks “The Blindside Kiss,” and “Hex Girlfriend”), suggesting that Mario’s whisked Peach off to a private bedroom somewhere in that tower of hers.
Palomo hasn’t completely ditched “Psychic Chasms”’ more garish elements (he actually named one of those tracks “Terminally Chill,” for Chrissakes), they’ve just channeled themselves into the TV screen, per bonus track “Arcade Blues,” which samples what sounds like a line from an old-school “Street Fighter” game. I mean really, check out the terrific, gimmicky commercial for the 'PAL1980X' synthesizer embedded at the bottom of the page.
There’s also a lot to be said for the care and painstaking work put into the looping, squiggling and constantly shifting synthesizer arrangements that fill out the body of this record. Same for the Palomo’s broody singing, which he obfuscates to muttery feelings with great success on “Fallout”: “If I could fall out of love with you, need to fall out of love with you, please let me fall out of love with you.” It doesn’t sound as desperate as singular, like it’s the lone thought in his head. It’s a love song about anti-love.
There’s also a major shift in mood and tone midway through the album, with “Fallout” and Palomo saves his first real, plopping-’80s bassline for the “Heart: Release,” the album’s final track if you don’t count “Arcade Blues.” One thought I couldn’t seem to shake was that “Suns Irrupt” (probably my favorite here, for reasons about to be articulated) strongly resembles LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great,” mainly in the shape that that forceful, low-end synthesizer combines with that little snare rhythm to create early on in the song.
For pure chill factor, I recommend Washed Out’s full-length debut as a superior document, but “Era Extraña” seems to me more unique and arty than any other of this year’s chillwave offerings. I do also think it’s a terrific step forward from “Psychic Chasms,” one that will no doubt lead to incredible stuff from young Palomo.