What is ‘indie rock’? Since the loose genesis of the phrase in the late eighties, people have tried to attach a sound to that term so it becomes a genre rather than looking at it in a literal sense; independent rock music. Nowadays, it’s like all bands that claim the genre ‘indie rock’ are going for a certain sound, making the spectrum of that scene blander. But with every push towards something in culture, there’s always a group on the counter end, creating something different for those that want it. In Palm’s own words, their music is “rock music backwards”. Their intricate style of playing deconstructs the typical song structure and gives the middle finger to listeners’ ears, in a good way.
A couple months ago, my friend took me to go see Palm where I was hooked immediately after never hearing of them before, but now I can’t get their odd guitar parts out of my head or imagine a world where it isn’t available; like seeing a new color. The New York quartet’s newest album, Rock Island, just dropped a couple days ago and we couldn’t be more excited about it.
To begin with, Palm’s sound is driven by their two fronting guitarists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt, but not in a way one would expect. Through a multitude a pedals that make their melodies sound like kettle drums, the two instruments loop riffs throughout their arrangements that give the listener a sense of floating down a river effortlessly. This allows their rhythm section, especially the drums, to carry the majority of the songs. By reworking the instrumentation in that way, Palm has already added new spice to the ‘indie rock’ chili. The other thing to appreciate about the band is their sense of humor. Now obviously they’re not the first band to do so, but every now and then musicians need to take a step back and have a chuckle about things. The obvious album title of Rock Island, suggests that sense of humor; the emphasis of ‘rock’ as the focal point as opposed to something deeper (thus phonier).
The LP opens with a barrage of the aforementioned looping guitars on Pearly. Alpert’s vocals sail between the two guitars and leads nicely into the more dissonant second track, Composite. These first couple songs on Rock Island make for a good introduction to anyone who hasn’t heard Palm before; they exemplify the group’s virtuosity via their lack of virtuosity.
As the album plays out, those who were fans of Palm before will notice the band’s further experimentation; more electronic influence, prominent vocal parts, etc. This is what experimental bands should be doing, experimenting. On the first single from Rock Island, Dog Milk, an additional, programmed drum is used. As the track builds and builds, the programmed drum blends in with the mix but as Dog Milk arrives at its small breaks and then the end, the electronic percussion is ever-present. This goes for other tracks on the record too such as Theme from Rock Island and 20664 (the latter of which is a predominantly synth-led song).
My personal favorite song on Rock Island came towards the halfway point, Color Code. The intro plays out like AOL used to when it was starting up. If one was to look at Rock Island as an arc where songs become more and more deconstructed, Color Code is perfectly placed in the middle. Even the already-funny guitars are at their strangest on this song and the drums would give any other percussionist an aneurysm if they tried to follow along.
It’s easy to say that everything in music has been done already. This is mostly because whoever is saying it isn’t totally wrong. But this writer would argue that there’s still ground to be covered and even more ground to be discovered; Palm is proof of that. Rock Island, while not the bands magnum opus, portrays their wanting to challenge indie rock’s status quo as they push forward as a band, and rightfully so. After all, isn’t that what the forefathers and mothers of the scene were trying to do in the beginning?
Click here to listen to Color Code.
– By Mike Metcalf