LOS ANGELES — Much has changed in the eight years since avant-pop artist and filmmaker Alan Palomo released his last album.
First, he’s no longer performing under the name Neon Indian — “I’m going solo from myself,” says Palomo, 35. Second, he’s jarred by the prospect of promoting his music on TikTok: “I might have to work on some dance challenges,” he adds with a laugh. Third, he’s noticed his songs crop up on Spotify and Apple Music playlists labeled “Indie sleaze” — which is not a term that anyone used for hipster culture in the 2000s, but has become shorthand for a scene that Palomo lived on the fringes of.
“It would have been a perfect time to put out a Neon Indian record, with all the nostalgia,” says Palomo, who welcomes me into his Highland Park home. Inside, echoes of Brazilian jazz bounce off the stucco walls.
“But by the time I put out my first record, bloghouse was on its way out,” he explains. “I missed that wave, dude! I was outside of the party, looking in!”
Palomo began making music as Neon Indian while studying film at the University of North Texas in Denton. Released in 2009, his hypnagogic pop opus “Psychic Chasms” brought splashes of technicolor to the lo-fi psychedelia of chillwave: an electronic micro-genre he pioneered along with American indie acts Washed Out and Toro y Moi. “Psychic Chasms” became the first in a trilogy — followed by the 2011 album “Era Extraña,” then 2015’s “Vega Intl. Night School” — in which Palomo’s elastic vocals, buried for years beneath blankets of reverb and static fuzz, eventually came up for air.
It was in 2019 that Palomo released “Toyota Man” — his first song in Spanish — which lambasted U.S. border policy, while also detailing his family’s immigration from his birthplace of Monterrey, Mexico, to San Antonio, Texas. It was a rare glimmer of righteous anger in the artist’s oeuvre, which seemed better suited for parties than protests; since then, he’s explored the Spanish language not just as a speaker, but as a songwriter. “I thought about Luis Miguel importing funk to Mexico,” he says. “And I thought, what if I approached it like that?”
Released on Sept. 15, his new album, “World of Hassle,” is a glittering, global ethnography of 1980s pop. His bubbly manipulations of Italo disco, synthwave and Japanese city pop evoke an era he lived in vicariously through his expansive vinyl collection — not to mention his dad, Mexican singer Jorge Palomo. Tales of island getaways and cutthroat club girls are told from the viewpoint of a fictional aging pop star, whom Palomo plays in English, Spanish and, for a spell, even French.
Armed with an arsenal of vintage keyboards and Moog synthesizers, Palomo and his band are gearing up for his “World of Hassle” U.S. tour, which includes a stop in Los Angeles’ El Rey Theater on Oct. 21. “I don’t care if it sounds new, or old, or whatever,” he says of the album. “What you hear is me trying to buy happiness on Discogs during the pandemic!”
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Q: Here’s a burning question. Why ditch the name Neon Indian?
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