Palms - Palms | Review

As soon as the word dropped that the rhythm section and one of the guitarists from one of the most influential bands in contemporary metal, Isis, had recruited alt. rock crooner Chino Moreno of Deftones fame to front their new project, Palms, minds were instantaneously made up about how this band would sound. Surely Palms would offer intricate instrumentals that swell and crash with the force of a tsunami coupled with Moreno’s signature vocal idiosyncrasies? In other words: Isis without Aaron Turner’s roars, riffs and song-writing and with Moreno stepping into the fray. Well if you thought that you clearly underestimated guitarist Clifford Meyer (Red Sparowes), bassist Jeff Caxide and drummer Aaron Harris. Sure, Palms shares certain characteristics with Isis (particularly the melodic passages off Isis’s final two albums), and Chino is always going to sound like Chino, but the band’s self-titled debut is a restrained affair full of blissful sound-scapes and dulcet melodies.

Palms began as a three-piece jamming in Isis’s old rehearsal room. A room without windows, the ghosts of the past dampened spirits to the point that Caxide, Harris and Meyer had to move elsewhere to gain fresh perspective. The change in head-and-rehearsal-space and the addition of Moreno as vocalist were decisive factors leading to the construction and completion of Palms’ debut. Instead of retreading old ground, the band wrote music that is more Cocteau Twins than Neurosis, more ambient post-rock teamed with ‘90s alt. rock than overpowering post-metal—and ‘Palms’ is all the better for it. Take opener ‘Future Warrior’ for instance. The song’s spacey textures are enhanced by Harris’s insistent hi-hat patterns and Caxide’s bubbly bass-lines, both of which echo The Cure at their most wistful. A downpour of distortion does occur but it’s not cataclysmic, it’s just emphatic when tied to Moreno’s pained cries of “You have destroyed it, destroyed it.” In fact, the same could be said any time the band decides to increase the noise, such as the momentary oppressive mood that drifts past during ‘Patagonia’ and ‘Shortwave Radio’.

Sonically, ‘Shortwave Radio’ is the heaviest addition here, as well as being most likely to satiate fans of Deftones as there is more than a hint of ‘White Pony’s’ “Passenger” to this piece, especially when the serpentine grooves of Caxide and Harris together with Moreno’s viperous vocal “descends into hell.” But such moments are few and far between and this is not entirely a negative slight at Palms, as the interplay between each musician makes up for the lack of riff heft. Caxide and Harris rhythmic partnership in particular shows no sign of cracks throughout each of these six, lengthy compositions. During the more condensed sections their playing is Isis-tight, bordering metronomic even (‘Mission Sunset’), yet they are loose and relaxed when the song calls for it, such as the chime and lull of ‘Tropics’ where Moreno evocatively splashes the song with imagery of sand, sea and sun. Arguments could also be made that Moreno’s vocals are not as essential to Palms as they are to Deftones. There is merit in this as the atmospheric music quite effectively speaks for itself, but his contributions do elevate Palms from categorisation as instrumental post-rock; a tired genre, ironically without a voice at present. And for the most part his breathy melodies are positioned without taking away from the vast array of sounds Meyer draws from his guitars and effect pedals. Moreno’s pacing on “Patagonia” is seasoned, and during the early parts of “Mission Sunset” his vocal lines are less about competing with Shora-esque snare runs and more about forming a duet with icy guitars that gleam white, before he really pushes his range just as a riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Far or Sunny Day Real Estate record appears.

Those who thought Palms would pile up a series of powerful crescendos may be disappointed with the overall direction of the band’s debut. But to rely on such would have been too easy and in all actuality, pretty uninspired. The band’s ability to create distinct moods with sound and voice, whether it is the glacial, quasi-instrumental “Antarctic Handshake” or this sun-kissed “Tropics”, is ultimately much more enjoyable than an album full of incremental builds and predictable crescendos. A couple of ferocious riffs would have been welcome, although incorporating aggression into this album may have unbalanced it as a whole. Cleverly, Palms have left the music of their debut open enough to explore different (including heavier) ventures should the band go on to record further material if schedules permit. It would be a shame if this is the last we heard of Palms, because with the amount of chemistry these musicians have together the open-ended vistas they could span in the future is vast. And that's exactly what is exciting about Palms.

Dean Brown

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Dean Brown is a metal scribe based in Ireland. He is currently a contributing editor to the North American cultural magazine Popmatters and he regularly throws words for a number of other reputable loud noise publications such as metal,,,, amongst others. He has a strong affinity for music that shakes souls and leaves debilitating tinnitus in its wake and such obsession has left him financially and medically crippled, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. Follow Dean on twitter @reus85