Review Summary: All the colors of the rainbow, all at once.
It feels pertinent to start this review with an acknowledgment of sorts. I was not the biggest fan of Palm’s last effort, 2018’s Rock Island. The Pennsylvanian experimental-rock-turned-math-pop band had all but lost me with its confused new sound, which (to me) seemed to focus more on texture than actual songcraft. In going back to it recently however, I do concede that my initial reaction may have been a tad harsh. That album did have more going for it than I originally thought. And while I still think it’s a step down from their previous work, I can at least acknowledge that it had a few decent moments. But the one criticism I can’t let go of, no matter how hard I try, is this: if psychedelic, math-y pop eclecticism is your ultimate goal, you need songs to back it up, and their last album was severely lacking on that front. They had the mood settled upon, but not the hooks, so to speak.
Which brings us to Nicks and Grazes, their latest. After a few run-throughs, I think Palm have come ever so slightly closer to piecing together their fantastical auditory kaleidoscope with this one. Even from the very beginning, with the glitchy industrial opening track “Touch and Go,” each fragmented layer comes together to form a satisfying work. The lyrics are still obtusely abstract, as to be expected, but it works with the uneasy, jittery mood the band is trying to set. All of that said, the highs on Nicks and Grazes don’t exactly soar. More like, take a solid step up the stairs, if that makes sense. “On The Sky” is a fun neo-psych trip with some wonderfully-jagged guitarwork. The progressive/math pop stylings of “Mirror Mirror” offer up a feathered groove and mellow vox, before shifting to a repetitious sampling collage.
Yet the refreshing focus this album offers at times is often withheld in favor of ill-fitting sound experiments that were probably better left on the cutting room floor than as additions. Tracks like “And Chairs” and “Brille” (or “Brill,” as all online sources seem to claim) are inessential ventures into ambient and sound collage respectively that don’t flow with the rest of the record. The same can be said for the chaotic noise of “Suffer Dragon,” which does little more than wedge its way in-between two (much better) tracks. But it’s not solely these tracks that bring the experience down. While this record is an improvement over their last, I wouldn’t say they’ve found all the pieces to their particular puzzle just yet. The fact is, Nicks and Grazes just doesn’t have a clear standout track to me. Its highs and lows pull against each other evenly, placing it in a proverbial danger zone. While it was an enjoyable listen, it’s doubtful I’ll be humming any of these songs in the following days. Thus is the curse of overly-stuffed, messy albums such as this. You would think that a painting with every color of the rainbow would make your art inherently more memorable, but more times than not, it just ends up making it hard to focus on any particular part. You could immerse yourself in this album for days and days and find yourself unable to recite a single part of it.
Sadly, the few brief moments of clarity just aren’t enough to make Nicks and Grazes stand out. A clear effort is being made here, and I can appreciate that, but they still lack a certain wow factor to my ears. I hope that by their next release, that nebulous final piece will have been found and Palm can truly blow me away. They did it years ago, I know they can do it again.