Review Summary: the one that left the house with its shirt on backwards
Much to be said about a band with a style so distinct, so quintessentially them
, that any and all discussion unfolds outwards from the same buzzwords: “Experimental”, “angular”, “quirky/weird” -- and did I mention “experimental”" These are expressions I’ll do my best to avoid herein. This considered, I’d like to make it clear that there's absolutely nothing wrong with said adjectives. In fact, upon first and second and third listen of Rock Island
alike, they’re as befitting of the band’s approach as ever -- a convenient and easy way of orienting the reader with Palm’s oddball instrumental interplay, their seemingly formless art-rock scriptures.
Like two positively charged magnets, though, Palm and simple evocations of sound will never be able to exist in the same sphere. The band is too oblique, though not for any amount of meticulous deliberation. It’s an inability to focus on their surroundings -- an accidental isolation -- that dictates where these songs go and how they get there. The band are alone on Rock Island, more likely to glean inspiration from the way the wind whistles through a hollow trunk, or the way its branches bow in unnatural directions. Maybe the most accurate reflection of such an image is Composite
which, as Marissa Lorusso kinda pointed out, sounds like Brian Wilson fronting Animal Collective (though I think Women is a better referent), or like The Beach Boys glitching out during a live performance. But again, I doubt this was deliberate; Palm seem more enamoured with the abstract, with remaining blissfully ignorant to the ways of other artists.
But please don’t misunderstand me, reader -- Palm exercise their fair share of self-awareness on Rock Island
, avoiding the trappings of a style oft labelled pretentious or indulgent by balancing the scales with the weight of actual, tangible melody, ripe for singalongs and awkward feet-shuffling. Diamonds in the ever-fascinating rough. There’s very little dissonance in Swimmer
-- a song that momentarily slows the record down to make room for a bit of wry humour, and (Didn’t What You Want) Happen
wanders into dream-pop territory without losing the metallic, clanging guitars that permeate the album. The serrated guitar tones should evoke antipathy, or discord, or discomfort, but instead they get along with the other elements just fine, similar to the relationship between an oxpecker and a rhino (mutualistic symbiosis being that rare thing I’ve managed to retain from biology class). Such is the expertise of a band like Palm.
And such is the challenge for a listener like you and I: to keep up pace, to postulate about the many ways that rock convention has been flipped on its head, to marvel at how these anti-riffs are just great, and not grating. Believe me, it can be a challenge -- there are times where the record behaves so obtusely it could be trying to shut its own audience out (example: the conflicting rhythms in Bread
directly averse to a “population of people who deal in cliché”), but finding the hidden entry points is half the fun. The other half is trying not to trip up on your way in.