Is Neon Indian the Last Great 80s Idol?

It’s August 2012. Neon Indian take to the stage at Lollapalooza, Alan Palomo caught unaware that their set will be cut short due to bad weather. It’s one year after Era Extraña, an exemplary album of an artist finding his feet and succeeding. Palomo is enjoying the display. It’s a far cry from his earlier shows where he would be hiding behind a mop of hair or crouched protectively behind his synthesiser.

A flash before Neon Indian’s 2009 debut Psychic Chasms was born, Palomo engineered VEGA: a more retro-focused, nostalgically charged electronic record that got somewhat overshadowed by Neon Indian’s subsequent explosion on the chillwave blogosphere.

It’s evident that while Psychic Chasms and Era Extraña essentially shaped the decade-defining chillwave and glo-fi movement, Palomo still had a curious toe in the waters of retro synth. After a four year process of self-discovery and giving into indulgence, Palomo revealed VEGA INTL. Night School in 2015. And with it, a lavish and divine transition into his future persona.

Poised in a charming stance with his microphone brandished like a weapon, Neon Indian invites us on a deluxe tour into their cocktail-drenched, glitzy, nocturnal study of after dark. Night School is the informercials you stumbled upon that were bizarrely enticing after your parents went to bed. You knew you shouldn’t be doing it, but experiencing the fuzzy window of forbiddance was too tempting to resist. It’s a fantastic piece of work, and Palomo offers much more than the standard album package.

VEGA INTL. functions more brazenly than a mere concept album. He gave us a flirtatious promo hotline and artwork mirroring the sleeves of coveted Japanese editions – he just wants you to stumble upon this album in a shifty Shinjuku vinyl store. Once we’ve stomped through the puddles and ran into some questionable characters under the minxy burn of red neon lights, it appears that the finest offering the album gifted us was Palomo himself.

A staggering confidence overhaul and the image of Palomo as an idol is the key to full immersion at the Night School. He takes centre stage on the cover, asserting dominance over his glittering creation. His vocals are sharper and attention-grabbing, and he’s now the star of his own music videos and stories. Harnessing full creative control was the greatest thing Palomo could have done. This project illustrates delving deep into your innermost creative desires is less a risk, and more an artistic fundamental.

Palomo’s demeanour on stage has thrived on solid Night School elixir and he’s blossomed into an 80s-heartthrob-turned-bad-boy. Playing to the crowd and throwing his voice across the sea of fans with aplomb, we see Palomo come full circle under his Neon Indian moniker. It’s hard to tell whether he’s playing a part or being his authentic self, but when it’s this good, who cares?

Faithful as ever in his retrowave mimicry, his newest music video ‘Annie’ has the artist don his finest windbreaker and trawl the neon-soaked streets to a tropical meld of synth and espionage lyrics (it even uses the word ‘dossier’). This devoted karaoke homage is nothing but bliss.

But I digress. Gone are the days of Palomo’s gauzy brand of lazy-day melodies. He’s a showman now, faithfully honing his image. It’s not difficult to image him adorning a teenage girl’s wall when he knots his brow and struts confidently down the street, or when he seizes his mic and dances to his own groove. His awkwardly playful hotline message harks back to the kind of schtick 80s teens would be crazy about. He even made an ad video playing into this very concept – and it’s perfect. Yet, Mr Palomo’s nighttime exploits are strictly adults only.

His father had a stint as pop star in Mexico in the late 70s and early 80s so this is clearly a landscape he is familiar with. Channeling the charismatic aura of Prince, he has emerged as a reincarnation of a phenomenon we thought had been left behind: the poster boy 80s idol, but this time for the grown ups. A satisfying progression, and he has the mark of what idols do best: have us eagerly anticipating more and more.

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