How ironic is it that Neon Indian was born out of Alan Palomo’s failure to do acid with his friend and visual collaborator, Alicia Scardetta? When your entire sound is built around psychotropic disco trails, it would seem like everytime you step into the studio you should be tripping on something, in the interest of authenticity, at the very least. Unfortunately, the sad fact is that it’s probably not easy to make pop music while you’re under the influence of hallucinogens (unless you’re Brian Wilson or the Beatles), which just makes it more impressive that Psychic Chasms sounds so wasted.
This particular aesthetic that Neon Indian has adapated — the feel of a bunch of synthesizers that decided to get loaded on Nyquil and gin — is particularly interesting because the result combines so many elements. The album’s obvious cough-syrup haze surprisingly doesn’t clash with fact that the material on Psychic Chasms recalls the drowsier side of Italo disco (especially the title track, which borrows a line from Italo essential “Come on Closer”). Oddly, that combination creates a bizarrely effective retro-futuristic feel that pervades the whole album, and makes it sound cooler. There’s just no other word for it.
Probably the only drawback to this is that it often feels like the distinction of Neon Indian’s aesthetic eclipses Palomo’s compositional strength. For the album tracks where the songwriting feels weaker, like the title track and “Local Joke,” this works to Palomo’s favor; the mood of being in a 21st century club as imagined by a ’60s pulp writer is just so darn effective that it really doesn’t matter that the songwriting takes a back seat. But I still suspect that if the songwriting on all of Psychic Chasms was consistent with “Deadbeat Summer” and “6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know),” the record would be better.
Really, though, that’s just nitpicking. Palomo has made an album that sounds pretty distinct from a lot of the electronic music that’s getting attention right now. Sure, he takes his cues from old sources, but the result — dreamwave, or chillwave, or whatever — is so unique and lush that Palomo should be content to ride off of the high you imagine he might get from making something so effective. See, you don’t need drugs to have a good time after all.