Neon Indian at Social Hall, SF 9/22

Looking around the crowd at the newly minted Social Hall SF, it was apparent that the diehard group of fans had little idea what they were hearing. Attending a show by a favored artist is an unforgettable experience; the anxiety and foreboding feeling that they may bomb the performance, the hope against all hope that the one favorite song played on repeat 300 times that one summer is on their set list, the lofty and unrealistic expectations of them noticing your pinpoint gaze from the stage.

All of those unstable feelings – coupled with the awkward notion of repeatedly bumping shoulders with complete strangers – are made more bearable by the overarching fact that the mass of people is musically in sync. Artists take huge risks when touring a new album pre-release; when a fan base comes together to experience their latest works before hearing a single song, the performance can either fall flat or amaze. Alan Palomo’s performance, thankfully, accomplished the latter. Despite vague familiarity with the new material, the cluster rocked and swayed to the arrangements that have made Neon Indian into a renowned electronic producer.

Between his own eccentric swinging hips and a charmingly flat-footed signature shuffle (falling somewhere between Motown and Disco), Palomo also managed to keep an often-times lost crowd energized and in the moment.


Somewhere between hearing Vega Intl. Night School for the tenth time and experiencing the live version, a single theme materialized: identity. Conjecture about growth, selling out, going back to ones roots, slumps (sophomore or otherwise), etc. constantly deconstructs albums from what they truly are – standalone works that may not necessarily have to do with the current landscape or outside influences.

the Internet has a way of coaching you into this state of mind where you think that every step you make needs to completely supersede the last… Music can exist [simultaneously], as opposed to making a statement that follows the linearity of everything that came before it.– Alan Palomo

An obvious statement once put into words, it also seems like an outdated thought process for the Internet generation of music fanatics. An album can be both groundbreaking and genre defining in the moment. The more fantastical our critical response is up front, the more scrutiny that will be placed on prior and future works on the back end – careers are mapped out like a road trip from some well defined point towards an unknown destination, instead of critiqued as a standalone work of art. As the creative force behind two cult classics in Era Extraña and Psychic Chasms, the third installation, Vega Intl. has been a half decade in the making and with a freshly paved road to predetermine its merits.


Palomo’s map is intimately tied to a departure point labeled chillwave. That point, in fact, was one that housed the most diverse and burgeoning population of artists pre-2012. Performers from all parts of the country did their part to push the sub-genre to the forefront, while also vehemently denying its existence: Washed Out, Toro y Moi, Teen Daze, Mansions on the Moon, Tycho and so on. These artists’ influenced the electronic world of music in ways similar to the “future” movement that is perpetuated by the Soulection and Future Classic collectives of today. Whereas 2010 saw a convergence of new heights for the vaguely defined form of artistry, 2013 saw its relative fall from notoriety.


What’s interesting to me is that all these new sophomore albums by so-called ‘chillwave’ artists is really only reiterating the notion that everybody come from polarizing backgrounds to begin with. Nobody’s second record really sounds like one another, and that’s a really awesome thing. – Palomo (2011)

Toro shook the niche label from his music with the 2013 release of Anything in Return, taking a sizable chunk of listeners away from the genre in the process – this year has since seen him release the dark, experimental Samantha, which only further displays his removal from those early beginnings altogether. Washed Out followed up his masterful Within and Without with a 2013 LP, Paracosm, which lacked some of the imagination, catchiness and starpower from his debut. Mansions followed up their 2011 mixtape Paradise Falls with a hiatus, which saw them largely forgotten after a groundswell similar to that of Kid Cudi’s. Tycho has gone on to undisputed commercial success, but not without also blazing his own trail away from chillwave and into his own ambient, experimental space, with Teen Daze following a similar sonic route.

2011 also saw the release of Palomo’s Era Extraña. A more mainstream – but no less enjoyable – album, Extraña gave listeners hope for the success of this pseudo-genre in general and for the future of Neon Indian specifically. Unfortunately, fans hoping for a chillwave takeover were left holding their breath for quite some time; this was followed by complete radio silence until the release of Vega Intl. Night School a week ago – over four years later.


Vega Intl. Night School

Vega Intl. Night School is a glimpse into the identity of Alan Palomo. Much less of a cohesive piece than Era Extraña was, Vega manages to capture a large amount of the charm and novelty that made Psychic Chasms a classic. Like those many related artists who departed the genre, Palomo hones in on his strengths and exploits them in a variety of ways on this album. Through fourteen tracks, the remnants of his best works can be found in pieces scattered throughout Vega.

Progressions and arrangements within these songs link the originality and freshness of summery, analog production with the “bigger” aspects of major pop music, which is apparent in the first or second sitting with the album. Substantiating the link towards this suddenly expanding fan base, Neon Indian recently made an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, once again displaying his outlandish dance moves while introducing the first single, “Annie.”

A balmy track, “Annie” blends some reggae keyboard synths elements with a simplistic, catchy vocal hook. Not to be forgotten, this track also contains a Neon Classic signature: futuristic instrumental outro, containing a healthy amount of Palomo’s best practices.


In most ways, artistry reflects personal growth of the artist. Thus if the album lends itself to identity as a common theme, it also reflects the idea that art, like growth, is never complete. That is a roundabout way of saying this album doesn’t feel like a complete, cohesive one. The highs are much higher than the lows of the album, the second half of Vega Intl much stronger than the first. The album is certainly enjoyable overall, but it leaves an impression more as a collection of the best tracks Palomo has devised since Era Extraña, and less of a journey to be listened to in a specific order. Reuniting with his brother, on the bass guitar and in the studio, the shifting style from abstract electro-synth into something more distinct than previous records is apparent.

I was curious to how it was gonna go, because… when we found our musical identity, it was complete opposites.– Jorge Palomo 

In part because of how strongly the songs fluctuate in style, it is difficult to hit the moving target and define the inspiration for the album. While songs like “Slumlord’s Re-lease” lock arms with some previous hits on Psychic Chasms, there is also irrefutable evidence of transformation and a touch more experience. Whereas the debut was built on songs like “If I Knew, I’d Tell You” – intricately catchy, lightly distorted garage band loops – Night School feels more like a controlled effort by Palomo to craft his own distorted beeps, boops, and hisses. Palomo foregoes some of his dreamier works, reminiscent of OMN, in favor of more structured noise this time around.


The pressure started disappearing, and in its place came this overwhelming desire to make incohesive psychedelic babble.

Opening with an ode to the old school samples, “Hit Parade” is a purposefully blurry introductory piece, sampling on backmasking techniques as a prelude for the next 13 tracks. “The Glitzy Hive” sees Palomo defy the mono-genre mold by crossing between indie rock and funk; like the related acts of prior years, Palomo finds his niche in Vega Intl, exploiting a need for Prince-like vocals over distinctly wonky sounds. “Dear Skorpio Magazine” keeps up the funky vibe, complete with a complex electric guitar and downbeat pattern. While incorporating the playfulness of earlier works like “Deadbeat Summer,” the track stands apart from the rest of the album as the most lyrically complex and vocal-dependent. “Techno Clique” takes the album on a decidedly sharp turn away from the overall feel, opening with an almost tribal introduction. An eclectic mix of production styles and modal borrowing, “Techno Clique” revels in incongruity and bold sequences, while maintaining coherence with minimal vocal assistance.

The most straightforward track on the album, “Baby’s Eyes” is a throwback piece that feels more at place with music from the 1980s than that of today. The markedly psychedelic aspects lend themselves to a six minute jam full of feedback, reverbs, and an extended electric guitar solo.

Overall, Vega Intl does not disappoint, as it has a substantial amount of content to satisfy newcomers and die hard fans alike. A technical work, bounding back and forth between songs, experimenting with oft-forgotten techniques, guiding its listeners along – reverting “back to its roots” at times – Palomo’s album displays a level of growth that cannot be denied. Stylistically and instrumentally, Neon Indian has vastly expanded his whimsical style since the days of recording on a modified Commodore 64.


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