Palm Rock Island

[Carpark; 2018]

Styles: experimental rock, noise rock, indie rock
Others: Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Animal Collective

The quartet of Philadelphian post-punk Dadaists called Palm locate the point of confluence between the inscrutability of noise rock and the directness of pop music on Rock Island, the group’s second album and Carpark Records debut. Bright, chiming guitars and steel drum loops tangle into heterodox time signatures and undergird brash, yet opaque vocal non-melodies, with a centrifugal, hiccupping deconstruction of easy listening.

At the fore of this freak-pop paradox is the Janusian vocal duo of Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt, whose distinct singing styles occasionally convene in harmony, but more often than not provide two markedly different approaches to vocalization. “You only like me in my most peculiar state,” sings Kurt on “Composite,” enunciating with a guilelessness that hearkens back to the bright-eyed cooing of Beach Boys golden child Carl Wilson. Alpert, on the other hand, sings with far more furtivity, often subjecting her vocals to studio manipulation. On closing track “(Didn’t What You Want) Happen,” Eve sings, “Now we’re out of step, but you don’t ever seem to mind,” with her voice buried in the instrumental mix and compressed nearly to the point of incoherence. Never at odds with one another, Kurt’s and Alpert’s vocals explore the poles of sincerity and self-effacement present in both pop and experimental music.

The album begins with a percolating processed drum salvo akin to the sounds on Death Grips’ Bottomless Pit or Government Plates. And like the Sacramento trio, Palm display a propensity for off-putting experimentation that confounds unfamiliar listeners and rewards the patient ones. Yet where Death Grips unrelentingly employ images of ultraviolence and anomie in their music, Palm’s lyrics instead conjure innocuous, nondescript touchstones of modernity. In other words, Death Grips seek to normalize radicalness while Palm work to radicalize normality. The song “Bread,” with its plainly unpretentious title and 35-second false-start, cultivates an unassuming atmosphere that allows Kurt to promulgate his quotidian conceits of societal disarray: “A population of people who deal in clichés/ And there’s no punctuation to grant you relief.” For Palm, bread, dog milk, and open-plan offices are the stuff of chaos, wreaking as much havoc as MC Ride’s divinations of internet hackers and culture-shocked psychopaths.

Rock Island is a work of vitiated beauty and entrancing disaffection. Disquieting but somehow quite familiar, the record contorts the warm sounds of yacht rock and island music into something primal yet alien. The end result is a sound that you’d swear has been done countless times before in the avant-rock pantheon, but in reality, its direct musical forebears are few and far between. And though Palm’s excursions into experimentation at times feel more rote than inspired (particularly the instrumentals “20664” and “Theme from Rock Island”), the group maintain a relatively consistent style on Rock Island, offering a unique take on the possibilities of contemporary indie rock.

Most Read