If the album really is dying, does the narrative still hold meaning? What if it’s completely interchangeable? Though far from a Kaiser Chiefs-esque Choose Your Own Adventure assembly, Palms’ debut appears unconcerned with differentiation, its six songs and three quarters of an hour often blending into one meandering yet fluid piece. It’s not apathy, rather a record strategically focused on being unfocused, content to create a haze to wander through. There is power in repetition and though Palms’ layered soundscapes do not lend themselves to conventional choruses or snappy hooks, the collective stands firm, even if you could arguably swap arrangements and vocal lines around from track to track and not disrupt proceedings.
That isn’t to suggest that the foundations are weak. Patient and probing, they’re exactly what they need to be. Mostly, they glide. Like their music, Palms have taken their time, having formed two years ago, uniting three parts of the freshly-defunct Isis (guitarist Bryant Clifford Meyer, bassist Jeff Caxide and drummer Aaron Harris) and Deftones frontman Chino Moreno in the process. Pedigree brings pressure even if supergroups tend to feel like hollow diversions, but Palms isn’t the first side project rodeo for any of its personnel. This one is unlikely to yield great surprise, but it should satisfy the likely 'same but different' expectations of their respective fanbases.
‘Future Warrior’ starts as if already in progress, all hypnotic rhythm and slow seduction, the effect akin to trying to retrace a dream that has moved on without you. If Palms dance around getting to the point, they’re at least quick to pull back from certain tropes. Moreno is languid and contemplative throughout, reining himself in when it’s time to raise pitch, treating his vocal chords with respect. His cries punch through, aided by hopeful shimmers, the discordant sludge of Isis almost entirely left behind as Palms seek brilliant light. ‘Patagonia’ is more immediate, momentum found, the duelling guitars falling somewhere between This Will Destroy You and Envy, Moreno somehow making lines about demons hiding in space sound both believable and attractive.
The jigsaw comes loose slightly as ‘Mission Sunset’ takes hold. A curious choice for a midpoint number, its prog-rock leanings make for a more engaging ten minutes and more effective conclusion than actual closer ‘Antarctic Handshake’, itself pleasant if forgettable. ‘Mission Sunset’ is mostly triumphant, at once subtle and grand; its peak reached around seven and a half minutes in when Moreno allows himself to drift away against a seamless hybrid of grunge and shoegaze. The final minute threatens to undo things with an unnecessary guitar and vocal flourish but the indulgence is forgivable.
In contrast, ‘Shortwave Radio’ is perhaps too reliant on a conclusion that is entirely reliant on the presence of Moreno, himself saddled with an especially overwrought refrain in the form of “Ascending into Heaven, while staring into Hell/You’re staring into Heaven, descending into Hell”. Moreno, armed with the kind of conviction that can only come from a man with life under his collar, finds catharsis in the words. He measures them against the music, his delivery connecting long before the inevitable screams come. The payoff is strong enough to mask a build that feels much too straightforward, but a great crescendo can be employed as glamour where necessary. The journey cannot overshadow the conclusion but Palms spend the best part of five minutes seemingly in autopilot, safe in the knowledge that the final act will suffice. It does, and while their coasting is nonetheless peppered with typically impressive musicianship, the sense of padding is unavoidable.
Penultimate track ‘Tropics’ offers an intriguing glimpse. Part interlude, part lullaby, part sleep-walk, it stands as Palms’ only real attempt at compartmentalisation. “You try to contain it, but you’re in over your head” notes Moreno, as if acknowledging the flaws that hold his new endeavour back, flaws they seem perfectly capable of amending should they fully recognise them. Palms is best at its tightest, but is perhaps a tad messier than it really needs to be.
7Dave Hanratty's Score