Release Date: Mar 19, 2013
Record label: Rough Trade
It seems like every four to eight years Britain produces a new band full of youthful vigor that drops a debut record and sets the music world on fire. In 2002, it was the Libertines’ Up the Bracket, in 2006 in was Arctic Monkeys’ Whatever You Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, and now, in 2013, it’s Palma Violets’ 180. Of course, it’s impossible to determine how far-reaching 180‘s impact will be but there’s already been very vocal support campaign spearheaded by NME that more and more people have been siding with (the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn being a recent example).
Who the fuck are Palma Violets? This past fall, the London four-piece roared out of nowhere, dripping with snot and sincerity on their shout-y first single “Best of Friends.” The tune is an instant classic, sprung from the same gnarly tree that gave us The Clash and The Libertines. This full-length proves that they’re no one-hit wonder, demonstrating depth, dexterity and a slap-dash genius that’s impossible to contrive. Meet your new favorite band.
Back in October, a week or two after Palma Violets first appeared on the cover of NME, I found myself editing the Fanmail page, sifting through the missives debating Jake Bugg’s ‘realness’ and editing out all the gratuitous c-words. But it was the handful of letters about our newest cover stars that caught the eye: they were all from readers who had recently seen the band on tour, and they were all disgruntled by the lack of profound change in their lives thereafter. And who could really blame them? They’d bought tickets to a bragging right, an ‘I was there’ anecdote along the lines of The Strokes in ’01, The Libertines in ’02 or Arctic Monkeys in ’05.
Like so many scrappy, pub-rocking British blokes before them, Palma Violets face an awkward proposition when presenting its debut record 180 on this side of the pond. Because they've received ecstatic acclaim from the most excitable parts of the English music press, they will inevitably be described as “hyped” or (worse) “over-hyped. ” And this will impact how 180 is perceived in this country, because of the aforementioned long line of scrappy (and hyped!) pub-rocking British blokes that have tried and failed to make an impression in the States.
During the 2000s and 2010s, too many British indie bands re-created and combined the sounds of past greats with too little inspiration or originality, but the Palma Violets blend their reverence for their forebears with enough vitality to make their debut album, 180, a notable one. These songs reveal a band that's brawnier than your average Brit-rock upstarts -- there's more muscle in their attack, and their raspy baritone vocals are a nice change from the reedy tenors and Ian Curtis clones that front so many of their contemporaries. To be fair, Chilli Jenson and Sam Fryer's voices often recall Bad Seeds-era Nick Cave and the Gun Club's Jeffrey Lee Pierce, but at least those are slightly more unusual touchstones; either way, the authority and heft of their singing on songs like "Tom the Drum" is refreshing.
Pity the hyped band. Thanks to the breathless excitement of the NME and the knee-jerk blogger backlash that inevitably follows, it's difficult to - as George Michael would have it - listen without prejudice to 180 the endearingly scrappy debut from South East London indie brats Palma Violets. There's a chunk of reviewers, hipsters and indie snobs who are desperate to hate this band, desperate for their shameless retro rock to go the same way as Terris and The Others and Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong and The Twang and a thousand other Carphone Warehouse-employed former cover stars.
Here’s the routine: “Guitar music is dead. DEAD. It has ceased to be. We are doomed to a lifetime of manufactured pop music created by Simon Cowell and David Guetta. We will never hear that sweet clang of a Gibson or Fender ever again”.. “Oh hang on, here comes this band. They’re young ….
One year in, the music press's campaign to insist that – despite all evidence to the contrary – we're living through a golden age for indie rock seems to be gathering momentum. Its undisputed leader was once the NME, which boldly announced last year that ours was "a glorious time when rock and roll proves the doubters wrong". Over the ensuing 12 months, their covers have certainly proved their point.
When there’s a raw intensity, rock ‘n’ roll’s the best drug on this planet. It’s absolute shit, though, if it’s phony. Then there’s that soggy middle to it all — the tasteless waters where sound isn’t just safe but vague and oversold. Rock ‘n’ roll failed because too many either dove, or started out, in these balmy puddles.
Having spent over fifteen years being intermittently burned by the British music press anointed Next Big Things – Terris, Gay Dad, The Vines, The Vaccines, the list goes on – my appetite for diving into the latest hyped debut from a British guitar band has diminished somewhat. Consequently, I missed my deadline for Palma Violets’ 180, not through laziness so much as through a distinct lack of motivation. When I finally got around to listening to the record, I realised that it isn’t quite as terrible as I’d expected.
Such is the hype emanating from certain parts of the U.K. media around Palma Violets many critics and bloggers must be tempted to shoot them down at the earliest opportunity, to temper their potential egos before the band grows into a kind of musical Piers Morgan. To do so would be unfair, though: the Londoners' debut album 180 isn't so much a likeable record as an endearingly naïve one.
Review Summary: They'll be your best friends, but will we?In the absence of a search for the Holy Grail, the music press (at least the shady, ghetto-ised, bribe-ridden section thereof) continually try and chase down the ever-elusive yet somehow-always-there shadow of the Next Big Thing™. Given that the UK has created a semi-ironic genre of its own dubbed ‘landfill indie’, it’s no surprise when any group of four lads (it’s always lads) with stupid haircuts, a load of stolen ideas and jeans so tight they could give you haematuria is handed that week’s crown of thorns. Since The Libertines kicked off the first real post-millennial surge of greasy guitar bands we’ve been force-fed some outrageously bad groups who are built up quickly and taken apart slowly; The Kooks, Pigeon Detectives, The Others, The Futureheads and so on and so on and so on.
London four-piece the Palma Violets' thrilling live shows have had NME in a froth for several months now (Best of Friends was even its Best Track of 2012). The debut album by indie's latest great white hopes, however, is notable mainly for its crushing ordinariness. Coming across like a chloroformed Libertines, their rough-around-the-edges sound is given a warm veneer by Peter Mayhew's keys, but they're hamstrung by a painful lack of memorable songs.
The latest band hailed as the Great White Hopes of bland, student-friendly indie-rock, Palma Violets have, remarkably, managed to make a record so uninspiring and undercooked it makes the likes of The Vaccines or Razorlight seem like misunderstood savants. 180 begins with their calling card, Best Of Friends, which was, quite incredibly, voted the best song of 2012 by the NME; it’s garage rock by numbers and sounds like it took as long to write as it does to listen to. In the right hands this is no bad thing – the crux of rock’n’roll, even.
Palma Violets’ ascent was notable, they said, strange. ‘Best Of Friends’, the first recorded output and first single from the south Londoners came after they’d secured a notoriously riotous live reputation; after they’d got themselves a considerable and dedicated fan base. You know – in that way that used to seem completely bloody normal?Have you ever found yourself running down a city street after dark, giggling while drinking the most dubious form of alcohol you could find in the closest corner shop? Felt you could take on the world; the glorious fuzzy half-way point between sobriety and otherwise, like time stood still? Been in a dark, damp club, music blaring when OH GOD, OH GOD THAT SONG I MUST DANCE NOW? ‘180’ is a bit like that.
South London quartet’s debut suggests they’ve the potential to be unstoppable. John Aizlewood 2013 While there are few things quite so frustrating for a pop band as being perpetual also-rans, being the next big thing carries its burdens too. Palma Violets are poised to break through courtesy of their incendiary but somewhat unsteady live shows. These ooze the off-the-wall unpredictability of The Libertines, the power of early Clash and an understanding that great music almost always requires great melodies.
When you’re named the “best new band in Britain” and your first single is dubbed “Song Of The Year” by your home country’s most influential publication, it’s safe to assume there are some lofty expectations in store for your forthcoming debut LP. This challenge of towering anticipation from certain media outlets and fans alike is exactly what swaggering London four-piece Palma Violets faces with the release of its first album, 180. The emotive howls of their pub rock provide catchy blasts of energy that are more familiar than groundbreaking but who’s quality should not be discounted for failing to meet the hyperbole that preceded them.
There's one microcosmic detail in Palma Violet's debut album that exemplifies the root of a lot of the fuss that's been made over them, for good or bad. It's the moment when established live favourite 'Tom The Drum' tumbles abruptly to a halt, a rattle of drumsticks turns into the band giving themselves a tiny round of applause, and you can clearly make out bassist/co-frontman Chilli Jesson's voice drawl "fucking brrrrrilliant..." before the song lurches back into joyous life. The raw, gawky excitement Palma Violets get from just playing pops from person to person at their gigs like sexy static electricity.
Keeping up with the precise mortality state of guitar music is currently an exhausting occupation. First it was morosely proclaimed dead, and then, all of a sudden, with a loud bang, the humble 6-string was apparently with us once more, alive and kicking. The whole affair is as ludicrous and tiresome as a farcical soap opera story line. Whether or not guitar music has the ability to leap fresh-faced out of a canal after being shot multiple times with a bunch of daffodils is not really the point up for debate here.