Guitar music is in a peculiar place right now. At the very least, it’s in another transition period. If there is any one band in 2018 to commandeer that transition, it is Palm.
A band turning guitar music completely on its head, Palm consists of four Philly-based musicians, forming at a liberal arts college in New York City. Their incorporation of electronics and unconventional sounds in their music made their last EP Shadow Expert ear-candy for anyone bored with the trite delay-smothered tremolo picking that comprises many similar guitar-based genres. Bassist Gerasmisos Livistano and drummer Hugo Stanley’s ability to seamlessly spring between an air-tight lock to a buoyant sprint deconstructs rock/guitar music from it’s base- providing the bedrock for guitarists/vocalists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt’s experimentation.
Some might call it art rock, some call it math rock- it’s all semantics. Where most math rock/art rock bands call it a day in their experimentation, it’s Palm’s morning coffee. A group truly pushing the musical envelope, Rock Island is already one of the year’s standout releases.
The three singles released for Rock Island make up the first three tracks of the album, making the rest of the album a fresh listen for those who followed the build-up to the LP. The deceleration at the end of “Dogmilk” serves as a fantastic precursor for the rest of the record, leading into “Forced Hand”, Rock Island’s most stark example of their “rock music backwards” sentiment. The whole track feels like it was written in reverse; accents placed opposite where they’re anticipated, instruments dancing around the stereo field freely. About a minute and a half through the track, the light breaks through the clouds briefly to allow Alpert to bask in the warm sun before returning to the turbulent swirl of the verses.
The unpredictable shuffles in rhythm/feel during the instrumental “Theme from Rock Island” make the track standout as more than a segue to the back half of the record. The back half of the record provides some of Palm’s most intricate work (“Bread”), which is noteworthy considering their catalog. The horn section and claps during “Swimmer”, the album’s most accessible track, provide relief between the rhythmic jogs of “Color Code” and “Heavy Lifting.” Kurt’s yearning line “All I do is make believe you’re mine” gives way to gleaming electronics, reminiscent of closed eyes looking at the sun on a beach.
The album’s climax, “Heavy Lifting,” starts intricately jaunty, building steadily by the end of the first minute. By the time you think you’re able to start tapping your foot, you’re thrown ten feet deeper into polyrhythms and vividly bright guitars dancing back and forth. A section around 1:40 appears to be your reassurance, until it becomes the driving force you were hiding from. The song gives as much as it takes- as soon as you think you’re out of the thick, you’ve entered a section twice as complex. The push and pull of this track in particular makes it Palm’s most ambitious yet.
Few bands have pushed the genre forward in the past five years as Palm has. At no point does Palm compromise complexity for accessibility, and it works incredibly well in their favor. Palm’s ability to give, take, and utterly surprise is what might save guitar music.