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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Neon Indian Has a Lo-Fi Cell Phone

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Alan Palomo’s cell phone doesn’t seem to work. His voice fades in and out and disappears in cell phone staticand T-Mobile reverb. There are beeps and clicks and oddly digitized sounds.

Based on sheer technological prowess, this shouldn’t happen. Palomo plays electro-pop. His electronics should work. This is a man who has just purchased a Theremin, nature’s most complicated musical instrument, with money that easily could have been spent at his local Verizon store. Instead, Palomo’s phone turns our call into one of his songs.

He records music as Neon Indian, with songs that are essentially Daft Punk tunes played over an 8-bit video game console. They click and pop, smothered in reverb and drowned in noise. That’s all that comes from his end of the phone call. Neon Indian is a lo-fi dance music act with a lo-fi dance music cell phone.

Either that or the problem is on my end of the line.

Palomo is 21, and has plenty of time left in life to find a working phone. He has already played the music industry trade show South by Southwest three times with three different bands—no small task for someone who didn’t intend to become a musician until very recently.

“We came to the U.S. from Mexico with the idea of me coming to college,” Palomo says. His film degree at the University of North Texas has been put on pause with only a year and a half until completion. “I had to convince my dad that I wasn’t just leaving school to sit in my apartment smoking weed and playing ‘Call of Duty.’”

To not have seen a music career coming, Alan Palomo, like his father Jorge, must have overlooked the Palomo family history. Jorge was a successful pop singer in 1970s Mexico, and Alan's older brother had already followed in Jorge's footsteps. By now, it’s a family business.

A career in music was an inevitability, but Neon Indian was an accident. It started, more or less, as an apology note. Then the driving force behind the band VEGA, Palomo made the fateful decision not to go on a planned hallucinogenic binge with his friend (and Neon Indian video artist) Alicia Scardetta over holiday break. The resulting song “Should Have Taken Acid With You,” was too good not to publish, and too good to rewrite as a VEGA song. Neon Indian developed to continue working in the aesthetic.

There is a universe where Palomo took acid and never birthed Neon Indian. He’s probably a rising star there, too. Palomo’s first band, Ghosthustler, drowned in its positive buzz.

“Ghosthustler got attention beforewe were really ready for it, and we kept trying to make massive production strides to keep up with our peers. LCD Soundsystem blew up overnight. I was doing that thing where you listen to a song and then write. Every song became a massive production,” Palomo says.

Barely older, and somewhat wiser, Neon Indian is less about keeping up with the present and more about hazy memories of the digital past. And that’s what Palomo is best at. It’s what drew him to the fundamental instrument of all his bands, the synthesizer, to begin with.

“I walked into a pawnshop and saw an Oberheim OB-X, which is a synth that’s normally Van Halen. I never saw one in person, and I hit one note, and it triggered a flood of sense memory,” Palomo says. “I was $300 short of buying it, and by the time I raised the money to buy it, it was gone. But I found my old Casio Rap-Master [kiddie synthesizer], and started using it instead.”

So he has $300 lying around? That’s a brand new iPhone. Just saying.

Neon Indian plays the Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, July 17, with Beach Fossils at 8 p.m. as part of WMSE’s Radio Summer Camp.