Mapping out a universe of spongy synth leads and canned beats, Texas tinkerer Alan Palomo has managed an offbeat triumph in Psychic Chasms, the debut of Neon Indian, his one-man project. The album, which features such casually sung gems as "Terminally Chill" and "Ephemeral Artery," was recently released by the rising Sacramento label Lefse. But beyond the jokey song titles and ticklish retro groove is a mind-altering listen inspired by time Palomo spent very much in his own head.
"I had just moved to Austin and I was in this weird, alienated place, focusing on school," he recalls. "I didn't have a car; I was feeling stir-crazy from all the time I spent indoors. When you're in that environment for so long, it's almost like you're conducting some sort of interior land survey. You're surveying the psychic chasms."
Palomo had played in the synth-pop trio Ghosthustler and was pursuing a straightforward dance sound with the solo project Vega when Neon Indian emerged from left field. The album sprang from the song "Should Have Taken Acid with You," which he calls a "tongue-in-cheek apology" to a friend with whom — true to the title — he'd been planning to share a hallucinogen. After completing a Vega EP, he decided to revisit that song's anomalous sound. The idea, he says, was to never spend more than two days on each track. Within a month, Psychic Chasms was completed.
"I had to keep the fluidity in the songwriting, and see how far I could go before I would completely exhaust myself," he says. "It was all leading up to this sound that felt very personalized." Citing the likes of Ariel Pink and My Bloody Valentine, he adds, "I've always liked very angsty, melodramatic, oversexualized, brooding music where the vocals are coated in this adolescent saliva. I listened to a lot of that in high school, and then I deviated into more dancey stuff."
Neon Indian definitely captures the heightened reality and inner turmoil of adolescence as well as tapping into the music he mentions previously. "Deadbeat Summer" is a yawning slice of exactly the wasting season it explores, whereas "Mind, Drip" crawls to a pulsing glow and "Laughing Gas" reveals Palomo's knack for shimmering dance music. He also notes the influence of synth-heavy film scores from the late '70s and early '80s. Indeed, there's something wonderfully kitschy and dated about the sounds he employs, recalling Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" as much as Phil Collins' early solo work.
"I had this mentality that no idea was a bad idea," Palomo admits. "It was just about finding the right context for it. I've always been infatuated with those really squishy, cheesy leads. I've always liked rock bands that have that one synth track, like 'What a Fool Believes' by the Doobie Brothers. That's just the goofiest synth sound they could have come up with, but there's something endearing about that, too."
Subletting his Austin apartment since May, Palomo has been drifting among cities, playing shows and working on music and remixes. He even spent a month in Australia collaborating with Aussie act Miami Horror. Though the uncertain time that spawned Psychic Chasms is behind him, he's still intrigued by some of the same ideas. "It's like scoring these very disjointed memories that are laden with nostalgia," he says. "Certain details get amplified, and it becomes this romanticized experience."