“Era Extraña” can be translated from Spanish to English as “Strange Era.” Musically, it does mark a new era for Neon Indian, one in which you can actually discern what the lyrics are saying 60 percent of the time, but for all of its washed out ‘80s pop aspirations, “Era Extraña” falls short of maturing, languishing in a navel-gazing, adolescent arrested development.
“Era Extraña” was released Sept. 13 on Neon Indian frontman Alan Palomo’s Static Tongues label. Neon Indian’s first album, “Psychic Chasms,” is a fresh “chill wave” soundscape of vintage synth and driving beats. The tracks feel cohesive but individual. In comparison, even though “Era Extraña” uses the same synths and beats, the album feels self-conscious and needy: Tracks blur together, and the vocals are no longer strange and sympathetic, but merely a disoriented, bass-y “Breakfast Club” throwback.
However, “Era Extraña” achieves a different kind of success. It serves as a spot-on musical analogy for the contemporary youth culture. Not quite innovative or fresh, not a completely pedestrian pop ‘80s throwback, “Era Extraña” struggles to find its own voice.
In the barrage of synths and melancholy vocals, there is a reflection of the hazy uncertainty our youth is entering. With economic, political and environmental uncertainty coming at you at the speed of social media, Neon Indian’s wall of sound overwhelms you to the point of acceptance while the persistent drum machine drives you on.
The sound traps you in a mental state that is aimless and deadline-less, like our Indian summer.
Tracks like “Hex Girlfriend” express disillusionment, with lyrics like, “Sullen sights always indirect/Tired eyes hypnotized by your teenage sect/Weekend rituals resurrecting/Feelings our sober minds reject” and a chorus that asks the question we’re all resistant to ask ourselves: “Does it make you, does it make you feel alright?/Did they make you, did they make you feel alright?”
The pop-y single “Polish Girl” sticks in your teeth like cotton candy and leaves you with the same saliva-mouthed, empty-stomached feeling that brings you back for more, searching for the substantive element and ultimately finding it in its impracticality.
Warbling distortion on title track ballad-anthem “Era Extraña” and dark themes on “The Blindside Kiss” (suicide? Social anxiety? Social suicide?) round out “Era Extraña” to be a more contemplative and emotional album.
Historically, sophomore albums tend to be hard, especially on the heels of a success like “Psychic Chasms.” If “Era Extraña” isn’t for you, don’t despair — check back in a year or two.
Take a listen. Keep pretending it’s summer. It may resonate with a deep, unaddressed, apathetic longing, or it may end up feeling like a drunken and dateless prom night, complete with paper stars brittle with glass glitter.