For Alan Palomo, the past eight years were an education. In the time since 2015’s VEGA INTL. Night School, his shimmering third LP under the Neon Indian moniker, Palomo felt the need to hone his chops. “I realized I was the least technically adept person in my band,” he recounted in a recent interview with Tone Glow. So he became a more accomplished musician, learning to sight-read and digging deeper into international pop music of the 1980s. He arrives anew on World of Hassle, his first album under his own name. Gone are the submerged vocals and nostalgic haze of his chillwave landmarks like 2009’s Psychic Chasms, and in their place is a clearer facsimile of disco, funk, and boogie: ever-present influences that were once buried in the mix. It’s been a long time since the last Palomo record, yes, but it’s because his vision required serious dedication to realize.
Opener “The Wailing Mall” announces a vital touchstone: Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man. Across World of Hassle, Palomo writes in a wry, self-aware tone that injects humor into each song, and he occasionally scrapes the lower end of his register for effortlessly cool talk-singing. These tools transform songs like “Nudista Mundial ’89” into convivial party-starters. Finding a goofball compatriot in Mac DeMarco, Palomo describes reveling at a nude beach, folding in cartoonish vocals around a sticky hook. “This ain’t no place/It’s a state of mind,” he sings of their debauchery. Playing the role of hedonistic sleazeball, his commitment to the bit makes the breezy atmosphere irresistible: The dizzying synths and candied falsetto sound like a margarita-infused reverie.
In the past, Palomo drenched his vocals in reverb and layers of texture, letting the grooves do the heavy lifting. On World of Hassle, his singing takes center stage alongside his sharpest storytelling to date. On “Big Night of Heartache,” Palomo aims for an economical beachside tearjerker by way of Hiroshi Sato’s 1982 city pop masterpiece Awakening. Amid romantic musical signifiers—seductively bent guitar notes, keyboards that swoop across octaves—he gets unceremoniously dumped, but not without bargaining (“I’ll lose the mustache”). The best city pop can make you feel on top of the world, and Palomo uses its luxurious setting to satirize a manchild in a moment of smallness. “I’m not crying, you’re crying,” he sheepishly retorts to an ex-lover, emasculated and ashamed.
World of Hassle is Palomo’s most fun record because it’s his most accomplished. His studied approach is clear on a track like “La Madrileña,” where a loping synth melody bolsters his hypnotic vocal delivery, showcasing his newfound ability to communicate a clear mood. On “Meutrière,” French singer Flore Benguigui’s vocals ooze charm alongside laser-sharp synths, painting a neon-lit noir. World of Hassle abounds with these simple pleasures: The percussive taps in “Stay-at-Home DJ” are delightfully waggish, the saxophone across “Club People” blares with magnetic verve, and the flurrying synths in “The Return of Mickey Milan” accentuate the album’s most memorable chorus. Palomo’s previous albums sounded like the ghosts of ’80s memories. On World of Hassle he offers some unforgettable nights of his own.
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