Craving a band’s next album when you’re only on the fourth track of their newest is a strange feeling. Rarely can a record be so instantly captivating, engaging, yet unfulfilling. It’s like the meal before Thanksgiving dinner; it satisfies you for now, but the real prize has yet to come. Rock Island is the best Thanksgiving lunch you’ve ever had.
The record is Palm’s first full length LP through Carpark records, and their most accessible work to date - which is not to say that the band is compromising its sound for streaming numbers or festival billings. Rock Island is still littered with the abrupt time changes, frenzied drum patterns, and off-the-wall guitars that make their previous releases so good, but this record is a clear step forward for the band on all fronts and its most intriguing aspect is that it feels like it’s a sign of much greater things to come.
Palm exhibits a phenomenal show of talent and skill across the entire record while operating within a fairly narrow palette of sounds. Save for a couple tracks, the record’s mood is bright, playful, and summery thanks in large part to the colorful guitar tones and sweet vocal performances. This is especially true in the first half of the album on tracks like “Composite” and “Dog Milk.” “Composite” features shiny, looping guitars paired with a much darker, post-punk-esque bass over frantic, fractured drums. The band had been playing a more up-tempo version of the track over the past year, but this new version’s pace shines especially bright in the outro which is reminiscent of Radiohead’s bass-driven “Bloom.”
The following track, “Dog Milk,” is the album’s standout track. The song kicks off with a stuttering drum machine that gives way to guitar patterns that sound nearly identical to steel drums. Kasra Kurt delivers the lead vocals on the track—including the most infectious hook on the record—while Eve Alpert provides the backing vocals. Kurt and Alpert work incredibly well as a vocal pairing on this track and throughout the album as they each contribute lead and backing vocals, which significantly expands the band’s range of songwriting possibilities. At times, Kurt channels the likes of Panda Bear and Brian Wilson, offering a very promising glimpse into things to come for the band.
The album’s front half’s bright, pastel aesthetic starts to fade on the sixth track, “Bread.” It opens with a campy instrumental loop that sounds like something Ariel Pink would write for Halloween. The track slowly builds and then weaves between time signatures while the drums and guitars jockey for the listener’s attention. Next is “Color Code” which sounds like a combination of “Pearly” and “Dog Milk.” Alpert gives her best vocal performance on the album as she alternates between hopping along with bass and soaring over the instrumental. It’s one of the few moments on the record where the vocals command the most attention.
“Swimmer” is the B side’s focal point. It’s a track that checks all the boxes of a traditional closer track as it incorporates all the thematic elements present in the rest of the record, but it’s darker, slower and fades away. But Palm decided to place it eighth in the track listing and followed it up with “Heavy Lifting,” which reprises the bright guitars that are all over the front half of the record. The pacing decision is one that a lot of bands seem to shy away from, but it injects a ton of energy back into the album. This track is also one of many on Rock Island that feels like an improvised jam and showcases why their live performances are so good.
Palm outshines an unusually strong group of albums that have been released in the first six weeks of 2018. But while most of the bands to release quality records so far this year appear to be past their prime, Palm is on an exponential rise. The Philadelphia four-piece is without a doubt one of the most exciting bands in the world right now with a seemingly unlimited potential for greatness. Palm has said that Rock Island is the first album they’ve released that they’re proud of, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Check out the Daily Lobo's Q&A with Palm during their Trading Basics tour here.
Ryan Moloney is a music writer for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org