Neon Indian

Synthpop musicians are often branded with the misnomer of hopeless futurists. The music they make is, after all, the product of meticulous production, inhuman synthesizers, and infallible computer programming. However, there’s one new group of electronic musicians who aim to undermine this label by creating sounds that are much more intimate, fragile, and firmly rooted in the past. Produced using archaic recording gear more commonly heard in the garage recordings of lo-fi and punk bands, this aesthetic strips down the familiar structure of synthpop until all the futurism vanishes; what remains is the sound of pure nostalgia—music resembling memories made simultaneously more abstract and intense by the passage of time.

It’s not difficult to identify why Neon Indian (Alan Palomo) is such a rising star in this blossoming scene. His is a young soul transfixed by the way memories change so much without losing their potency; he meditates on this subject often in his songwriting and it can be heard in every tape hiss, warped synthesizer melody, and heartbroken lyric referring to lost love. “The fact that certain synth patches can take me to specific moments in childhood or resonate with those muffled feelings of life before memory has haunted me for a very long time,” he says. “I guess in a lot of ways it might be a comfort thing—being able to evoke that childlike state of mind at the touch of a key.”

His debut LP, Psychic Chasms, was produced over a period of three weeks. Much of this time was spent writing, but a lot of it was also spent immersing himself in deep introspection. “I was just sort of sitting around my room with a few records and thinking about high school crushes, and a particular relationship in college that shaped a lot of my bleaker perceptions about that sort of thing,” Palomo says. Putting those thoughts to tape was an intense process, partly because he aimed for specific fragments of experience rather than worldly themes. “Every lyric I write is usually based on some interaction or daydream I’ve had regarding someone. It’s very rare when the content that moves me lyrically is based on any sort of abstraction,” Palomo says.

The results of this laborious process have not gone unnoticed. Singles “Should Have Taken Acid With You” and “Deadbeat Summer” have won Neon Indian legions of fans, love from music critics, and a world tour, which began before his debut album was released. Palomo processes his transformation from unknown to overnight star by looking again to his own past. “It’s still a bit difficult to fully grasp,” he says. “I constantly get those moments where I’m staring out the window of a train or hotel room and realize that I’m on tour, that I’m in Amsterdam, and that a few months before this, I was writing songs for a nameless project on the floor of my apartment in Austin.”

What tomorrow will bring is anyone’s guess. With the remainder of his year fully booked with tours, the release of yet another album (his other electronic project, VEGA), constant songwriting and remixing, and a move to Brooklyn, the future definitely looks bright for Palomo. Not bad at all for someone so focused on yesterday.

– Charlie Rohrer