Neon Indians, Awkward Texts and Vivaldi. (Esperanto - 2012)
(NOTE* I Wrote this a while ago for Esperanto, but I still like it. It was tricky to get my idea across, it’s still well formed in my head but not fully in the piece, but I think I managed to get a few things on paper. I had an awkwardly awesome text message conversation last night and I also bought my mum Richter’s take on Vivaldi for Mothers day. Those things reminded me I still needed to share this.*)
“There’s nothing better than having an experience now that’s the exact same thing I would’ve done when I was 16, like texting a really awkward “I like you” message to someone. The way you phrase it might change, but it will always continue to happen, and there’s something really charming and calming about that.” - Alan Palomo.
Apart from “cinematic” there’s no word that can trigger an instant gag reflex when talking about music than “nostalgia”. Nostalgia is rarely a collective thing so to label an act nostalgic is treacherous territory. It’s normally an easy way to say, “these guys sound a lot like (insert currently hip time period), but they’re still cool”. Sure, the new Pains of Being Pure at Heart record might sound a fair bit like the Smashing Pumpkins did in 1993 but that doesn’t mean it reminds me of my first kiss, which is a shame. For a while I dismissed nostalgia in music as a purely personal thing associated with individual events, but last year I discovered there are ways to make music that is instantly and widely sentimental to a wide group of people. It’s just a more complex process than using the same reverb settings as My Bloody Valentine did in 88.
Recently a couple of musicians with high concept tendencies played on the idea of how our memory works in relationship to music by redelivering music we have encountered in our past. Ambient producer The Caretaker rearranged pre-war parlour music he found on old damaged records into a whirling soundscape of things you thought you might have heard before but could never be sure. He repeated tracks at random points within his 2011 piece An Empty Bliss Beyond this World and filled in gaps with his own bits of sound art and remnants of the re-recording process. It was a work that brilliantly captured the the fragmented way our memory works. The result is a reflection of the mechanical complexities of the human brain rather than the emotional ones but it was very powerful all the same. Renowned German composer Max Richter recomposed the concertos that make up Vivaldi’s 1723 work The Four Seasons with similar results. He used music we are all familiar with and delivered it in a way that was startlingly new. That piece of music is of particular note because not many people my age listen to Vivaldi consciously, they have heard fragments of The Four Seasons in movies, at parents dinner parties, at high school concerts - always delivered indirectly. It could trigger memories that you never knew were there. They’re not nostalgic ones, but this process of fragmented redelivery is a step in the right direction to sparking them.
Nostalgia is reliant on tricks played by our brains. Often we remember things with a golden filter and we remember selectively. With his 2011 record Era Extraña Alan Palomo, who makes music as Neon Indian has done something quite remarkable. Rather than do what I thought he did and put 80’s filters on music videos, he’s actually legitimately uninterested in creating music that aligns directly with another time and place. He uses fragments of our recent past to construct a bizarre and beautiful present that taps into our tendency towards selective memory. The result is instantly “nostalgic” but feels rooted in the now because he’s doing far more than just mimic music from the past. Era Extraña is a far cry from the potentially inaccessible high concept work of the other artists I talked about. His re-imaginings come in the form of easy to digest, stupidly catchy pop songs. Songs that carry within them the shattered remains of a period of music most would rather forget.
There’s been a sort of survival of the fittest culling of the myriad of artists that emerged to cash in on big-sounding indie electro’s rise to prominence around 2006-2008, the time when Neon Indian initially appeared with 2006’s Psychic Chasms. Some acts like Cut Copy managed to adapt their sound to live another day but hope for the other young guys weilding synths and guitars seemed thin. Rather than distance himself from this period Palomo jumped right back in and mined the depths of that time, but these are far from direct copies. Like Richter’s take on Vivaldi, or The Caretaker’s redelivered parlour music they are recomposed to play tricks with your brain. The stadium filling, digitally perfected sounds of the songs he appropriates are gone, Neon Indian’s tracks are raw, minimal and unstable. The synths sound wobbly and agitated, like they could fall apart at any second. There is a purpose to this fragility.
“Halogen” is almost a note for note copy of M83’s 2008 monster “Kim And Jessie”, however the fragmented and fragile way it is presented means that you can instantly identify it with a time period but spend a long time trying to figure out exactly what it was reminding you of. I was very familiar with “Kim And Jessie” but it took me a few minutes with my head in 2008 to make the full connection, and within those few minutes you remember things you otherwise wouldn’t have. He’s also cleverly chosen songs that someone listening to a Neon Indian album would be highly unlikely not to know, minutes later during “Suns Irrupt” I found myself trying to remember the name of LCD Soundsystem’s “Someone Great.” Palomo talks about internet acceleration a lot, he understands the speed of the modern world. We’re nostalgic for things that just happened not things that happened 20 years ago. Era Extraña is one of the only records I know to fully tap into that.
Last year something really great happened to me. On a tram shortly afterwards, in the mood to remember golden hours and beers with lunch I skipped my normal diet of German ambient techno and reached for Era Extraña . It was shortly after it was released and I had no emotional attachment to it at all. There was a reason I did this. I’d rarely whack on the sickly sweet “Kim and Jessie” nowadays, but it’s nice to be reminded of the happy and youthful exuberance associated with it in a way that’s easy to digest. That quote up the top says it really well. Palomo is rephrasing the energy of the golden age of indie electro with maturity and class but the associated feelings remain the same. In 2011 he made a record that felt like 2006 and sounded like 2011. There’s something really charming and calming about that.