Crack in the Road

Outside of the blogosphere and the minds of Pitchfork affectionados, chillwave (perhaps as a result of it being brand new, perhaps because it sounds ridiculous) is seen as somewhat of a joke. Releases from chillwave artists (such as Washed Out, Toro Y Moi and, of course, Neon Indian) over the last year or so have, despite being technically impressive and sometimes brilliant as well as superb for your indie cred, failed to reach the mainstream or do anything positive for the genre of chillwave when brought up in conversation. This new release from Texas-based Neon Indian, however, could be set to change that.

Last year’s Psychic Chasms, heralded by Pitchfork and adored by hipsters everywhere, threw Neon Indian from the dank abyss of obscurity into the flickering, sometimes broken spotlight of a cult following. And it was, actually, a fantastic record – Alan Polomo’s psychedelic vocals perfectly complimented the sound of the album, which clearly never took itself too seriously. Despite this, however, it always felt like something of an experiment – a new idea being tested – which meant that the album generally felt novel, but somewhat immature. With Era Extraña, this problem has been fixed, and then some.

The best thing about this album, essentially, is just how much more mature it feels than Psychic Chasms. Every single track feels deeper and more layered, and the sound of the album seems so much more established – it really feels like the band experimented with the first album, decided they liked what they came up with, and then matured that sound to create what seems to be the natural progression for chillwave as a genre and Neon Indian as a band. Compare, for example, the first album’s Terminally Chill with Era Extraña‘s Hex Girlfriend – the former is simple and almost minimalistic, whilst the latter successfully maintains the feel of the first album whilst making it sound so much more complex and mature.

Terminally Chill by MGMTNeonIndian

Hex Girlfriend by MGMTNeonIndian

One of the definining features off the first album was Neon Indian‘s ability to create a hook – most of the tracks from the album relied so heavily on infectiously catchy synth riffs that it could quite easily be seen as pop music. This is a characteristic that is certainly maintained on Era Extraña and is most easily seen on Polish Girl, a track which maintains a hugely catchy synth line throughout and is just a little bit of Radio One airplay away from potential chart success.

The album is, naturally, not without the occasional flaw – it certainly seems like the type of album to make some people turn around and point out that “every song sounds the same”, and is extremely unlikely to convert the chillwave-haters out there.  The occasional track falls flat, too, such as the inexplicable inclusion of Heart: Attack, Heart: Decay and Heart: Release, three short instrumental interlude-esque tracks that litter the album without really bringing much extra to it.

Despite these minor issues, however, the album absolutely triumphs in one major respect – where Neon Indian have helped to pioneer and establish the genre of chillwave, or glo-fi, or whatever you want to call it, they are now, with Era Extraña, developing and maturing it – and with the creation of tracks such as Polish Girl, Era Extraña and Hex Girlfriend, could very well be successful in bringing mainstream credibility to the genre of chillwave. And although that could very well piss off the Pitchfork hangers-on, at least it means the mention of the word “chillwave” will no longer be met with a tirade of laughter.