In mid-October, while promoting an upcoming anniversary show, the fantastic American blog-turned-label Exploding in Sound’s Facebook page posted a live performance under a caption heralding the quartet as “EIS, the next generation.” The post seemed apt. The Pennsylvania/New York-based band, Palm, has one foot in the ’90s-esque, oddball guitar rock of their label-mates (LVL UP, Pile, Speedy Ortiz). On their debut album Trading Basics, the other foot is planted firmly in the future, one full of off-kilter beats and echoing yelps. Palm can undoubtedly shred like its peers, but choose to do so off the beaten path, drumming up a devilishly intricate style of art-rock and skipping the dominant influence of Pavement, and heading straight towards Sun City Girls.
The first thing to notice when approaching Trading Basics is just how wrong it sounds. The guitars of Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt sound dissonantly clawed at—picks are dragged full force across the strings, finger-contorting arpeggios are feverishly exchanged—while the backbone of drummer Hugo Stanley and bassist Gerasimos Livitanos pops up and down through rhythms, equal parts tight and sporadic. The album constantly feels like it’s about to fall apart under the weight of its own jangle and polyrhythms, as in the scattered back-and-forths of “Child Actor” and instrumental track “You Are What Eats You.”
Yet, outside the chaos, Palm create their own brand of catchy music. After the first layer of noise, you stumble upon genuine earworms and some of the smartest melodies to come out of the underground music scene in recent memory. The third track, “Ankles,” particularly functions as a standout showcase for both Stanley’s jittery beats and the group’s knack for infectiously warped vocal lines, with Kurt’s Panda Bear-like yelps of “I don’t need you” ready to spend days resonating in your skull.
The prevalent pitfall in an album as forwardly technical as Trading Basics is the lack of feeling beneath the spectacle, something Palm seems to circle around without fully falling into. The lyrics are minimal and often seem secondary to the melodies, even when vocals are the most prominent part of the mix. The emotions missing on the surface of the lyrics, however, are made up for by the vocal performances themselves. Simply look to Alpert’s ghostly calls on “Crank,” or the surprisingly sweet harmonies opening “Second Ward” for examples.
Trading Basics is an album distinct and memorable as much for its approach to melody as its weirdness. Where bands before and after them look to odd rhythms or jagged guitars as a way to stand out, Palm have built something more complex. Beyond the experimentation, it’s clear they aren’t just showing off, but rather looking towards the future.
“Ankles,” “Child Actor,” and “Second Ward”
Women, Animal Collective, Krill
“If we can’t get home for supper/we must just have to suuuufferrrrr” – Crank