Tag Archives: Neon Indian

In concert: Neon Indian (Toronto; October 18, 2011)

Alan Palomo said, “I’m pretty sure this is the fourth time we’ve played Lee’s Palace, and bar none, it’s the most people we’ve ever seen here.” Before a clammy crowd dressed uncertainly for the first cold weather of the season, Palomo’s Neon Indian delivered a rousing, hour-long affirmation of a rising talent’s sundry charms.

The chillwave class of ’09 is leaving its wobbly origins behind, trading idiosyncratic, bent pop for gussied-up, neo new wave, a crowded field with some commercial impact. Last month, Era Extraña lifted Palomo into the top 75 in the U.S., where he can count on Jimmy Fallon show appearances and pole positions at various festivals to get his music across. Toronto’s long been a stronghold for Anglophilic indie, and Palomo’s obviously noted the uptick in NI’s fortunes. It was shoulder-to-shoulder between stage and soundboard on Tuesday.

Neon Indian’s got the tools to make the transition stick, too. Although Extraña dispensed with the baked, retro-goggled fizz of the superb Psychic Chasms, Palomo’s new songs have a sturdy classicism about them: a solid build that rewards multiple listens, lyrics that don’t fall apart on the page, melodies that stick. As with his music press appearances, onstage he’s likable, comfortable: few band leads might smash their lip on the mike while geeking out over a joke, and then reference it with an even geekier aside in the encore. There’s nothing shameful about geeking out when a packed club is sweating to your art, by the way. Don’t ever change, Alan.

Generally, the touring faction doesn’t contribute to the records, but you wouldn’t know it. They’re a tight squad. Keyboardist Leanne Macomber and drummer Jason Faries are the touring vets; Ed Priesner (keys) and Josh McWhirter (axes) signed on after guitarist Ronnie Gierhart left at the end of 2010. The well-drilled unit gives Palomo the company he needs to indulge his frontman tendencies. The tunes’re danceable; Palomo wants to dance. The live Neon Indian is better for the bonhomie.

Extraña bears a familiar cross for one-man studio bands, where some of the better lead lines get buried in a no-showboating, evenhanded mix. Watch Neon’s classic first Fallon appearance from winter 2010, when Gierhart’s tangled, searing bursts gave “Terminally Chill” and “Ephemeral Artery” surprisingly punky punch. McWhirter – who did contribute to the new record – performs the same function now. Ably, too. The rest of the live heft comes from Faries. Again, more punch. He pumped the break after the first chorus in “Fallout” with a tumbling tom-tom pattern straight out of OMD’s aesthetically similar “Souvenir,” a 21-second stretch that thrilled. I hoped to hear it again in the next break – I didn’t – because it’s one of those live additions that transforms a good song into a hefty slice of awesome. (I’d love it on the outro, Alan. Think about it.)

Psychic Chasms songs outnumbered new songs. That was surprising. Not disappointing in itself, because Chasms is stuffed with choice tunes and I’m not ready to kiss ’em goodbye just yet. It was surprising because Palomo benched several viable candidates (“Halogen [I Could Be A Shadow],” “Suns Irrupt” and the non-album “Sleep Paralysist”), turning in a 57-minute set that felt short, even by club standards. ‘Sup, guy?

Those Chasms oldies nosed out the Extraña tracks on the audience response meter. “6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know)” had a sighing slinkiness only hinted at on the record (it sure got Leanne swaying), while a Eurodisco glide unbuckled “Should Have Taken Acid With You”‘s belt, and coaxed a great pop vocal from Palomo, with some nice rhythmic interplay between Faries and McWhirter. The abrasive, sci-fi pops’n’farts remain high in the mix, but groove makes for a pretty exciting running mate.

Speaking of the mix, a complaint: Palomo prefers to bury his vocals. Don’t know if I like that. He’s writing songs, good ones; why not let the words breathe a little? “Polish Girl,” Extraña‘s excellent lead single, suffered in concert as it did on Fallon. It frankly sounds like an accident, but it’s clearly by design. I’ve read he’s a little pitch-challenged on occasion, but couldn’t pick out any glaring offences at Lee’s.

In the encore, Palomo saluted “one of the fucking coolest audiences we’ve had this tour.” The fucking cool audience roared back. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

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Add some music to your day #9: New releases, September 2011

September’s shopping bag: a lot of quality cats with previous year-end top 10 albums weigh in. Some months you’re happy to have functioning ears.

THE ROSEBUDS – Loud Planes Fly Low

A record written, recorded and released during the dissolution of a marriage, a tricky proposition when the principal band members are the couple in question, which understandably informs and even cripples the heretofore sweeter and fresher Rosebuds. In the words of the opening song, “diluted and faded, still safely there.” Aside from the choppy, seething “Woods,” it’s all pretty morose, rather pretty but stolid, as though Ivan and Kelly are going out of their way to be polite in front of the in-laws. What they’ve committed to tape’s admirably convivial. Kelly’s dreamy “Come Visit Me” suggests there’s desperate paddling beneath the calm surface: “I want to feel something way out here/I need something to happen now, even if it fucks me up” is pretty direct for this duo. Less bald but just as sad, “Limitless Arms” is shiveringly gorgeous, maybe the best song of Rosebuds’ distinguished career. Ivan hasn’t much to say after a perfunctory verse, cooing “I feel like I’m reaching out for the last time” for the better part of three minutes. In this setting, it’s poetry. Loud Planes Fly Low is too withdrawn to match their best, but no matter The Rosebuds’ future, they’ve left us this song for all our break-up playlists.

 

THE DRUMS – Portamento

Spindly indie of occasionally great beauty and pop attack. Considering the singer’s capacity to annoy, were his lyrics more incisive and the guitar work more flamboyantly creative, The Drums would be closer to The Smiths than you thought possible. But they’re a bit of a mess right now – one of the guitarists quit and everyone else has flipped instruments. The shifts’ve taken a toll on Portamento. On a case-by-case basis the songs are fine, but there’s a shortage of the explosive dynamics that characterized the debut. The result – smaller, more pessimistic, radio unfriendly – is the kind of record that landed a lot of second-division indie bands in label hot water 30 years ago (Comsat Angels and The Sound come to mind). But as a grumpy exegesis on romantic, spiritual and personal disappointment, Portamento’s worth the dime and time for the bought-in:  “What You Were” and “I Don’t Know How To Love” are brilliant, as good as anything on The Drums; “Money” is great hangdog inadequacy set to nervy C86-bounce, with layers of that smirking vocal stacking that drove the haters bananas last year.

 

NEON INDIAN – Era Extraña

Although I’ll miss Psychic Chasms’s cosmic farts and bleeps and may forever wonder whether Alan Palomo might’ve done even more with the bonkers blueprint, he’s done the smart “career” thing, seizing on a little bit of notoriety (Fallon, blog love) to fashion a good old-fashioned synthpop band record (and a top 75 US album to boot). Props for a fully integrated sound as well; but for a couple guest turns, Palomo plays most everything you hear. When it works – “Polish Girl,” “Halogen (I Could Be A Shadow)” and the gorgeously downcast “Fallout” – it fulfills the promise of last year’s surprisingly refined OMD-meets-Yellow Magic Orchestra “Sleep Paralysist” standalone. When it doesn’t – the sandblasted stab at rock in “The Blindside Kiss” – it’s bad idea jeans.  There’s still plenty of analogue squiggling built into his (now) classically pop-structured tunes, but if Palomo’s committed to this trad approach he may want to bump his vocs a little higher in the mix. The lyrics – on Era Extraña, reflecting a lonely work winter spent in Finland – aren’t throwaway and shouldn’t be buried. Extraña is very good – if not quite equal to Chasms – and represents an important developmental move into the indie big leagues. Long may Palomo bleep and bloop.

 

ST. VINCENT –Strange Mercy

Less immediately gratifying than previous records – and immediately disfigured by the abominably self-conscious opening tune – Strange Mercy doesn’t rewrite the rulebook so much as it rearranges the furniture:  less emphasis on bewitching vocal stacks, more rope for strangled guitar textures, that sort of thing. The credits reveal some hired hands behind the Vincent facade – but it’s still the Annie Clark show, her placid singing style masking querulous lyrics, the harrumphing left to angular guitar bursts. The band lets loose once in a while – “Hysterical Strength” and “Cruel” get let off the leash for little runs – but the milky production does nothing for me at lower volumes, all smooth contouring, like IKEA office furniture designed by Apple. “Surgeon,” “Cheerleader” and “Champagne Year” are three good songs not too badly done in by the sound. But they’d be even better with a little blood on the teeth.

 

GIRLS – Record 3: Father, Son, Holy Ghost

I worry for the guy’s state of mind, but the fact is Girls is still batting a thousand after three releases in 24 months – sad records of regret and resignation – wherein the arrangements are moving further away from buzzing indie terra firma toward a kind of kitchen sink drama largely enabled by the studio duo of Chris Owens and Chet White’s increased instrumental and recording sophistication. “Vomit,” for instance, is a depressive stunner that turns its limited lyric into hypnotic gold by means of repetition and dynamic fortitude – at seven minutes it takes after Album’s “Hellhole Ratrace” – but never cracks its hair-trigger control, which makes the post-track silence at song’s end all the more chilling. “Forgiveness” is maybe even better: “Nothing’s gonna get any better if you don’t have a little hope, if you don’t have a little hope in your soul” is about as simplistic as Conan’s speech on cynicism on his final Tonight Show, and hits as true, especially coming after 30-odd minutes of woe betidings. Uncomfortably confessional yet encouragingly mulish. Father, Son, Holy Ghost isn’t easy to take – at least one play fell flat on its face when I just wasn’t in the mood – but barring a few forced, upbeat misfires, Owens is building an amazing, morose songbook.