Words by Jordan Martich
About two years ago, eccentric pop band Palm made their debut with Trading Basics, their first full-length. In the wake of its release, the band was celebrated for the fact each member was new to their respective instrument and incidentally had cultivated an original sound. In 2017, a new narrative emerges with their latest EP, Shadow Expert: Each member is exactly as adept in incorporating their specific element into the song precisely where it fits, communicating in a tongue all their own.
For Palm, this process gestated into success over time spent playing together; learning one another’s syntax. “We’re better at giving each other space sonically, and also identifying the elements we bring as individuals that work and turning them up,” said drummer Hugo Stanley. 2015’s Trading Basics wowed listeners by showing the spaces that bleed between musical styles, upholding the trance-like compositional flow of no wave while incorporating the emotive maneuvers of experimental gods such as Sonic Youth or Slint. Shadow Expert finds the band doing much the same, as whirling drums and desperately complicated guitar leads twist into knots like loose shoelaces. Follow any single instrument throughout a song and you’ll have a different listening experience from tracking the distinct thread of another, the complexity of which never loses its edge.
“The music is already somewhat unconventional, so there usually aren’t obvious ‘safe’ choices for us,” said Stanley. “The song structures on Shadow Expert are also more complex and the relationship between the guitars and rhythm section is more nuanced in a warped kinda way.”
And while they may not be trained at any of their instruments, there is a profound fluency in the communal musical language that they all speak together. By virtue of writing within this style, within the elements available and their understanding of them, Palm pours out delicately chaotic music. It’s art-pop that’s self-aware and striving to find an edge on that never-ending horizon. This latest EP, out on Carpark Records, finds the peculiar form that they’ve carved out for themselves and develops it further.
“It’s sort of an expansion on some of the musical tropes we were trying with Trading Basics, so the songs are more complex and ambitious,” said Stanley. “In contrast, though, it’s a little more straightforward and stripped down from a production standpoint.”
From the outset of opener “Walkie Talkie” on Shadow Expert we begin to absorb Palm in bursts — a guitar shyly chirps, eliciting a response that dissolves quickly into a romping conversation. They practice their dynamics on songs like “Trying,” where a churning, anxious bridge winds with anticipation to be resolved into gorgeous guitars trading harmonies. By effecting the vocals lightly and conserving their use, Palm includes a separate narrative quality to their songwriting on Shadow Expert.
“These days we probably give up less easily on trying to make things work that seem like they shouldn’t at first,” said Stanley. “Maybe that’s a function of having a little more confidence.”
Palm, Palberta, Plush
Swedish American Hall
July 14, 2017
Jordan Martich is a writer and musician living in Oakland. He drinks too much coffee and doesn’t go to the beach enough.