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Miguel Otárola says that living a less carbon-intensive life sometimes just means staying home and watching a movie.

How does an artist whose name has become synonymous with a sound and genre of yesteryear break out of its confines?

If you’re Alan Palomo, the electronic pop artist formerly known as Neon Indian, you start by ditching your original moniker. You work on improving your musical chops and lyrics. You read contemporary Mexican novels. You grow a mustache.

Then you take everything you’ve learned over the last eight years and sculpt it into a shimmering, standalone record. For Palomo, that album is World of Hassle, his first under his given name and a masterful re-introduction to the indie-sphere.

World of Hassle arrives 14 years after Palomo’s first record as Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms, defined the warped, sun-bleached electronics of what we fondly recall as chillwave. Between the hits “Deadbeat Summer” and “Should’ve Taken Acid With You” is an album crackling with analog synths, Doobie Brothers samples and thick, strutting funk grooves. Palomo wasn’t just presenting an aesthetic — there was a beating heart and a pulse behind these songs.

Chillwave’s moment was short but curious, and Palomo continued to explore the micro-genre’s possibilities in 2011’s Era Extraña. Four years later, he followed it with VEGA Intl. Night School. Here, Palomo expanded his musical range into reggae (“Annie”) and disco (“Slumlord”), and sang in a kinky falsetto that reinvigorated his trademark synth-pop (“The Glitzy Hive”, “Dear Skorpio Magazine”).

Palomo attempted to follow up VEGA Intl. with a fourth Neon Indian album, cutting it between tour stops before ultimately scrapping the record. No longer the fresh-faced kid who started Neon Indian, the decision led him to refocus his artistic career. In 2019, Palomo released “Toyota Man”, a cumbia-influenced track about his family’s move across the border to Texas. Singing in Spanish about an experience both personal and universal, the track was a peek at what was to come.

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“Some would say that the last eight years have been a break,” Palomo told me over Zoom during an interview about his career earlier in September. It’s difficult to believe that given how detailed and cohesive World of Hassle is. Released under his government name, World of Hassle emulates the synth-pop and city pop that spanned the globe during the 80s, including in Palomo’s native Mexico. Donning an oversized blazer and a mischievous grin, he embodies the persona of a globe-trotting ladies’ man whose only real companion is the sax player that blares solos between his verses.

Palomo’s no stranger to this swanky lifestyle; his father, Jorge, was a nightclub singer in Mexico with a “closet full of suits that smelled like cigarettes,” he said. World of Hassle standout “La Madrileña” once again features the younger Palomo writing and singing in Spanish.

“I thought a lot about Luis Miguel,” Palomo said from his Los Angeles living room. The chart-topping Mexican pop singer “was definitely someone I grew up listening to with my family, and he was kind of known as this importer of funk into Mexico and the Latin American world.”

This sensuality is something Palomo flirted with on VEGA Intl., and World of Hassle sounds like the product of a meticulous producer wringing every drop of emotion out of his instruments. Perhaps this is why his collaboration with Mac Demarco on “Nudista Mundial ’89” works so well. Both are studio obsessives with an ear for pop songwriting and eye for cheeky characters. Of all the songs on World of Hassle, this is the one most likely to remind listeners of the chillwave days of yore.

During our interview, Palomo said he’s working on an EP to follow World of Hassle next summer. He also told me why he thinks a reissue of Psychic Chasms is long overdue. Our condensed conversation is below.

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