On Rock Island, Palm takes a deep dive into what rock music can be
The band Palm may as well print some t-shirts with “Not your parents’ beach music” emblazoned on the front, if their latest album is anything to go by. Rock Island is the the Philadelphia band’s second full album, and it features a steel-drum focused sound that warps and shifts violently amidst mathy guitar riffs. It’s the type of music that would make Brian Wilson proud.
It’s extremely hard to pinpoint what Palm sounds like -- quite honestly, the best way to understand them is to just listen to their records. That’s obviously simple advice, but with a record as four-dimensional as theirs is, words don’t quite do it justice. Hairbrained comparisons are a consequence of a band doing something decidedly original, so music journalists often find themselves grasping at straws with how to portray the sound of a band like that of Palm’s.
For instance, on the track “Composite,” it comes across almost as if Dirty Projectors took an island holiday. In his wistful tenor, Kasra Kurt sings, “You only like me in my most peculiar state on Saturdays / But I can harvest all the soft delusions central to your game.” As he offers this picture of people’s perceptions of each other, tempo changes galore abound during the course of the song.
There is no definite direction that a Palm song will go: whereas many songs are linear, this band’s songs feel as if they’re bouncing off a wall. The band’s music can be many things at once, with nice harmonic portions offset by thudding rhythms.
On “Dog Milk,” there’s an enjoyable switch-off between the bass and steel-line, offering a respite from Palm’s tempo-changing mania. As the song draws to a close, it sounds warped, almost has if it’s taken a dive into the depths of the ocean.
“Theme from Rock Island” has all the suaveness of an older detective show, an air of mystery ever-present throughout the track with its slick guitar riffs and what appears to be some sort of woodwind sample. At certain points during this album, it’s easy to feel like there’s an information overload going on in one’s brain with just how many misdirections and sharp turns Rock Island has. That happens to be exactly what Palm’s going for, and all these nuances tend to reveal themselves even more on a second listen through.
A sound loop that sounds straight from an old radio program introduces “Bread.” Looping seems to be a theme of Palm’s music, whether that be through samples or guitar licks played repeatedly. The band can make a song like this one, where it’s simultaneously harmonic and technically-loaded, not to mention Palm’s lyrical work.
The first verse comments on how children are forced into believing things “we don't even give them the chance to agree” with, while the second states that you get older and “You know all that you get is a chance to agree.” This lyrical paradox almost seems representative of Palm’s equally paradoxical sound.
An interesting deep cut is found in “Heavy Lifting.” It’s more relaxed than most of the album, and incorporates a tuneful guitar melody. Palm doesn’t lose its flair despite this, however; there’s a intriguing breakdown later in the track, along with the band’s trademark colorful sound eruptions scattered throughout.
Rock Island closes with a song full of questions. One verse expresses a desire to fix a relationship, despite not wanting to compromise oneself. It goes, “Oh can we find how to turn us to another page? / Can you fix yourself? / Cause I don't wanna have to change.” The music here seems to portray this feeling of wanting everything to appear fine and not reveal life’s rough edges. Rock Island proves that exploration outside conventional sounds can offer a world of possibilities.