Far in advance of the official release of Neon Indian’s debut album, Psychic Chasms, Alan Palomo’s project has been pinned with newly coined generic labels like “hypnagogic pop” and “glo-fi.” And while the latter seems to be more or less a jokey aside that slipped out of a tipsy conversation and on to the Internet, the former term has been endowed with some weight by David Keenan’s lengthy article on some of the bands making music that nostalgically draws from popular music tropes from the eighties, but blurs and smears them to, in a sense, embody the nebulous intensity of vague (at least partially invented) memories which have a consistency similar to the images produced and trapped in the borderlands between sleep and waking. While the memories are real, what they recollect is often of the stuff that dreams are made of.
No doubt I have skewed off from previous descriptions of what constitutes hypnagogic pop music. What is important, at least with regard to Psychic Chasms, is the way that the songs use elements and sounds which recall those used 25 years ago, but they also bend, stretch, and distort these sounds to create a sensation of space between the song and the listener. It isn’t that songs like “Deadbeat Summer” and “6669 (I Don’t Know if You Know)” aren’t immediately gratifying (both have loads of hooks and charm to burn), but that the way they are produced suggests that time has already worn them down, taking off the shine but in the process making them resonate all the more with strong emotional experiences that are, at the same time, remote, difficult to relate to the events of a specific time and place.
Throughout, Psychic Chasms is evocative of adolescence, of joys and satisfactions that seem ever-present but also just out of reach. Palomo freely indulges a taste for loopy, whimsical oohs and aahs, and synth squeals that show that what was only recently considered “cheesy” can be made into a tool capable of affecting listeners in unexpected ways. Exuberance and melancholy exist in a comfortable cohabitation, each feeding on and adjusting the other. For instance, “Mind, Drips” locks into a slow, sultry groove that is deepened by whirling synthesizer arpeggios and then brought to a minor pitch of euphoria by the cooing harmony vocals on the chorus. It is reminiscent of the atmosphere on the last Cut Copy record, though the slightly warped sounds pull it more toward the realm of weird electronic shit rather than the bubbly warmth of Balearic sunshine.
Psychic Chasms is a good record to make you realize just how relative are our distinctions between what is good and bad, cool or kitsch, passé or retro. “Deadbeat Summer” is great because it is catchy and spacey, but also because it manages to throw together some almost jokey moments with a pervasive feeling of laconic swagger. And the lyrics, on “DS” as elsewhere, act like the music, some lines standing out, especially suggestive, while others blend in to the music, almost indecipherable. They point to events and situations that never clarify but are all the more hypnotizing for the lack of context they produce.
Hypnagogic pop may very well become obsolescent quickly and without fanfare. It is very possible, even probable. But there is something about Psychic Chasms that will remain endearing, something that will probably call listeners back for more years from now. Maybe it will be that beautiful little love song, “Should Have Taken Acid With You” that draws people back in, the gurgle of the washed out bass line, the twinkling notes floating skyward, the funny way that it seems such an apt expression for the regrets (for what remained undone) that we all carry out of childhood. Or maybe the song itself will inspire the creation of a whole season of events that never happened but feel like they did, and maybe that will be enough to keep it alive as the soundtrack to an imagined summer long since past.
Cut Copy – In Ghost Colours
Memory Cassette – Call & Response EP
Nite Jewel – Good Evening
MP3: “Deadbeat Summer”