REVIEW: Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms
Zach Hart Wednesday, October 07, 2009
In a decade where the synth was grabbed from the bowels of the 1980’s and dusted off, there couldn’t be a better album than Neon Indian’s debut to perfectly bookend ten years of a machine that touts waveform generators, ADSR envelopes, ribbon controllers, and other electronic words I’ll never understand. Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms acts as a history lesson of the synth in the 2000’s, moving from simplistic melodies to more evolved 2005 esq “synth art” tracks and ending with an almost 8-bit, “now” sounding synth track. Psychic Chasms is a loaded name for an album if one were to go greek/latin, which I shall. Psychic from the Greek psychikos means “of the soul” and chasms from Latin hiare means “to yawn”. Yawn being the Greek chainein meaning “to open wide”. This album, by definition, is the wide opening of the soul. Some of you reading are yawing already. Basically, I bring this to your attention because the first time I heard Neon Indian’s big beat psych synth sounds, my soul was opened, wide. The music notes rushed through my body like white blood cells and that little place in my mind that controls judgment smiled and determined one thing: this album is fantastic.
Psychic Chasms starts off with a short instrumental track that doesn’t seem to add much to the album. Four tracks later you’ll completely understand the opening track. Neon Indian has been slowly releasing tracks and building “buzz” with the two masterpieces “Deadbeat Summer” and Terminally Chill”. On the album, these two tracks are broken up by short instrumental clips that act as moments of rest. Another moment of rest, “(If I Knew, I’d Tell You)" acts as an exit point to these two songs and an entrance to the start of an actual album. Think of it as an EP starting out a LP. If a listener skips around to the longer songs, it will only hurt the overall experience in the end as I’ve found that “Terminally Chill” doesn’t sound half as good without the buildup from “Laughing Gas”. You’re eating the popcorn plain. Put some butter on it and let the album work as it was intended, with these rhythmic instrumental tracks building up to an explosion in the form of the longer tracks.
“Deadbeat Summer and Terminally Chill” are masterpieces. This being true in what these songs are trying to accomplish. I feel like the mission statement for Neon Indian is to create soundscapes that tip toe the line between being cool and artful. Let’s face it, when listening to both of these tracks, all I want to do is put on some colored hipster glasses, jump in a vintage car with an American Apparel model who likes Bukowski, and drive around a deserted Texas town blasting Neon Indian up and down the empty streets. At the same time, I also feel a deep emotional connection to this music that goes far beyond connecting an image of cool to the music. The vocals are consistently melancholy, one emotional note crooning throughout which allows for the melodies to waver from beauty to bleakness. In this respect the album reminded me of the emotional power the synth can create and how it has been executed in the same successful way as bands like Broadcast, Casiotone, Air, M83, Animal Collective, and many others of this decade.
While most will gravitate to the two “masterpiece” singles off the album, every track from “6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know)” to “Ephemeral Artery” sweeps me off my feet. These tracks are the spine of Neon Indian’s sound and really cements this album as something special. It’s one transcendental beat/melody after another for six straight tracks. “Should have Taken Acid With You” is foot pounding fun, while the title track, “Psychic Chasms” sounds like an 80’s prom slow dance song strung out on, well, acid. “Mind, Drips” is a very literal title since if you listen to the track with headphones on, every thought in that precious head of yours drips out as the beat floats in.
My excitement for this album mainly exists in two thoughts. First, for me, this album makes me feel something that no other can. It mixes emotions and creates new ones track after track. Secondly, the album is highly intelligent in its integration and reformation of the synth sound. Neon Indian pulls from those who used it successfully in the past and puts a fresh spin on the sound for the future. I don’t believe this album is for everyone as some people might find it boring, repetitive, challenging, or pretentious. For those who can close their eyes and see the lush soundscapes that Neon Indian created on Psychic Chasms, then you understand what I’m saying, for the others who can’t…try opening up that soul of yours and let the music sink in.