Release Date: Feb 9, 2018
Record label: Carpark Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Experimental Rock, Math Rock
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.
At the fore of this freak-pop paradox is the Janusian vocal duo of Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt, whose distinct singing styles occasionally convene in harmony, but more often than not provide two markedly different approaches to vocalization. “You only like me in my most peculiar state,” sings Kurt on “Composite,” enunciating with a guilelessness that hearkens back to the bright-eyed cooing of Beach Boys golden child Carl Wilson. Alpert, on the other hand, sings with far more furtivity, often subjecting her vocals to studio manipulation.
Back in 2015, Palm released their fidgety, excitable debut, Trading Basics, and it had them quickly pegged as the mercurial love child of Deerhoof and Slint. While continuing to bear some of the hallmarks of rock's oddball past, 2017's Shadow Expert EP saw Palm shed such weighty comparisons in favor of tending to their own unique character. That EP both expanded and sharpened their chaotic whims into a taut, barely contained version of their debut's scrappier qualities, and their sophomore record further refines the whirling chaos.
Listening to the first 30 seconds of Rock Island, it might surprise you that Palm never really learned to play their instruments in the classical sense. Singer-guitarists Kasra Kurt and Eve Alpert, bass player Gerasimos Livitsanos, and drummer Hugo Stanley were all more or less amateurs when they converged at New York's Bard College circa 2011, as you'll learn from most writing about the Philadelphia-based band. This part of Palm's backstory has trailed them for years, perhaps because it helps explain the wayward frenzy and exuberant sprawl of their music.
The pursuit of creativity goes beyond our grasp. Working toward something that is completely original has its merits, but it's also a terrible way to approach any work of art. I thought about this a lot while I went on a weekend getaway to Palm's Rock Island, an artful post-punk statement that attempts to enliven the apparent normalcy of indie rock in 2018.