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How Neon Indian Disrupted and Grounded My Life

Okay, full disclosure; I’m supposed to be writing an article for Hi-Fi Lives about the new Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks record. Actually, I originally planned on finishing it about 4 weeks ago, but…something else came along and changed things.

I could go on for hours complaining about the myriad of academic stuff I should be spending my time knocking out. I’m also moving at the end of this week, so I should probably be filling and sealing the boxes creating a labyrinth of obstacles around my house. The backlog of podcasts that I normally would’ve listened to by now is starting to collect well beyond what I’ll be able to get to before their timeliness expires. My August consisted of 2 funerals and a wedding. There’re plenty of other things on which I could be spending my cognitive energy, right? Instead, I have to take the time to explain the nuances of a record, to which I absolutely cannot stop listening, to the internet. It has simultaneously disrupted my life and grounded me to a place where I can focus on the things that need to get done. Thanks a lot (meant both sarcastically and sincerely) Neon Indian

Calling back to previous articles I’ve written about the serendipitous nature that comes along with modern album releases, as well as my article about the affective nature of music in the fall: The new Neon Indian record, Era Extraña, hits both of these beats. I knew the record would be released at some point in the fall, but I’m not diligent enough to remember, or search for, release dates unless there’re multiple things happening on that day to give me an unrelated point of reference. In short, I’m terrible with dates. Discovering this album’s availability amongst the new releases of the day, when I wasn’t expecting it for another month or so, added an extra element of excitement to my already high level of anticipation.

About the autumn release thing; yes, I have a feeling that this will be remembered as a part of my soundtrack of this year, and it’s not the first time Neon Indian’s done this to me. I happened upon the initial release from Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms, literally en route to my modest Tuesday night DJ gig back in October of ‘09. I was so moved by the tonal atmosphere of legitimate synth-pop which sounded like it was being played on a warped cassette that the patrons of the club that night were subjected to my own personal game of “How many songs can I get away with playing off of this record without it being obvious?”

I should elaborate on the aforementioned “warped cassette” aspect. I think there’s something particularly significant to the instant nostalgia that comes along with the batch of chillwave acts that have popped up in the past few years (e.g. Toro Y Moi, Small Black, Washed Out, etc). Those of us born in the late 70’s and early 80’s were more or less the first generation to grow up hearing synthesizers as a normal aspect of pop music. The use of analog synths and antiquated technology are the new low-fi standard, so these type of acts elicit a nostalgic response even though the songs are new. We’re also familiar with the phenomenon of leaving one’s tapes in the car or outside by the jam box in the heat long enough to alter the sound quality. To this day, when I listen to Radiohead’s The Bends, I still expect particular parts of “High and Dry” and “Black Star” to emit those same three-second backward and warbled bits that occurred where the magnetic tape in my copy somehow switched polarities (as they were on opposite sides of the cassette).

There’s another technical aspect of this record that evokes a feeling of neo-nostalgia. A great deal of the melodies on this record come from synthesizers that are looped and/or arpeggiated rather than played out manually. This is nothing new, of course, but it does a lot to negate the old argument that these technical tools take the emotional element out of music. I think I’m also in that first generation of music listeners that’s become so accustomed to automation that there’s an element of soul bleeding through the electricity.

Ironically, the tone of this record reminds me a lot of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which was constructed–with great pride back in 1991–without the use of synthesizers. It’s easily one of my favorite records of all time. However, very similar emotional tones rhyme between Loveless and Era Extraña, in spite of their juxtaposed composition methods. The similarity is probably what’s made Era Extraña so compelling and has placed it in a state of constant repeat on my iPod. It’s something close to my heart, where music belongs–simultaneously new and familiar. I feel as if these types of records are an example of history proving wrong a popular opinion of the past.

Look, my life at the moment is completely in flux. The only consistent piece on which I’ve had to ground myself has been this record. As disruptive as it’s been to my listening habits, it’s comforting to have something that remains constant during the upheaval. I needed Era Extraña more than I realized. Sure; things are finally starting to settle a bit, I probably should finish some of the many projects on my plate, and the new DJ Shadow, Mayer Hawthorne, and J. Cole records are burning a hole in my iTunes. It’s probably time to move on…but maybe just another listen or two wouldn’t hurt…cheers…

Find more artists like Neon Indian at Myspace Music.

“Did you hear it?”…some words about Radiohead

Editor’s note: IronJ146 first published this piece on his personal Tumblr site: Robots can live in the woods, too…. It originally ran on February 19, 2011, the day after the release of Radiohead‘s most recent album, The King of Limbs. While this post was created well before the conception of HI-FI Lives, it certainly makes sense to include it with our collection as it poignantly captures his experience with the release of this music and I appreciate his allowing us to feature it on HFL.        –HI-FI Janna

Yesterday, I woke up to the closest thing to actual serendipity I can expect in my adult life. It may be a condition unique to me, or this moment in history, but it’s never commonplace to wake and immediately discover that one of your favorite “things”, no matter the form, has made itself available to you when you weren’t exactly expecting it.

My “thing” in this scenario is the new Radiohead record, The King Of Limbs. Radiohead has been my stock answer to “Who’s your favorite band?” for the lion’s share of their career. The Bends was one of the first cassettes I ever purchased for my car when I was 15. Every subsequent release has either come about during some substantial period of my life…or maybe I just use their albums as place markers to keep up with my own personal history…either way, anytime those 5 guys collaborate on an album of recordings it has an impact on me at a very personal level. For better or  worse, their artwork has had a massive impact of the formation of my personal identity. (yikes!)

I’m not trying to build up the release of this record to some hyperbolic level of importance beyond the fact that such an event has historically been significant to me, personally. I did seriously consider skipping out of my daily responsibilities to digest the album. I tend to have really bad ideas when I first wake up.

I should address the particulars before losing the attention of the average net reader. (Ugh! 4 paragraphs? I don’t have time for this.)

Look, I like it. I’m only really disappointed in its short length. I could’ve used 2 or 3 more songs, but maybe that’s being selfish. There are a few songs I welcome into the band’s larger body of work with open arms. “Bloom” feels like a Flying Lotus song with DJ Shadow moments, which may say a lot about circular influence. “Little by Little” feels like how I imagine the 1960’s were in the UK, and “Codex” is the show stopper that I hope for with every release. I’m compelled to continue listening to it and that’s all I can really ask for from any album.

With all that personal opinion stuff out of the way, there’re a lot of aspects of the “event” around my “thing” that I find interesting. I’ve noticed a wide variety of reception to this album. Most notably, I feel like there are a lot of listeners that are underwhelmed, and that’s fine. When you have a reputation for releasing game changers, there’s gonna be some unreasonable expectation involved. We’re certainly not talking about Chinese Democracy here, but it’s hard to defend against “disappointed.”

I also can completely sympathize with the aggravation that comes along with Twitter and Facebook feeds of non-Radiohead fans being bludgeoned with updates about something in which they essentially have no interest. I can’t help but feel a little defensive, but that’s because it’s my “thing”. Every time Kanye puts anything out, I roll my eyes as well…but that’s completely different because…nevermind, I’m not gonna debate the subjective.

Most of all, I like that people are talking about it. It could certainly be my circle of interaction that makes it feel so prominent, but no matter the quality of the album or level of satisfaction, it is being discussed. I’m lucky to be able to go out the day that my “thing” happens and start a variety of conversations that begin with simply “Did you here it?”. Just it. 

Therein lies what I really find significant and special about Radiohead. I’ve been called a cynic, but when my favorite “thing” occurs I’m at no loss of discussion forums. It’s one of the rare moments where I personally feel in touch with the world around me and it, ironically, happens with something as personal as my favorite “thing”.

Did the world change with the release of the new Radiohead album? Of course not. Do I like the new addition to my “thing”? Absolutely.

Here’s to having a favorite “thing”. Cheers.

Find more artists like Radiohead at Myspace Music.