I have a confession to make: despite being a self-proclaimed “serious” music nerd, I listen to most albums while doing something else. It’s usually just chatting with other listeners, or a ballgame on mute in the background, but it’s rare that my attention isn’t compromised. It wasn’t always this way. As a teen I’d take long walks with a Walkman as a buddy. As a brooding college student I’d sit in a blackened dorm with a pair of cans snug to the ears. Now it’s difficult for something to earn my unfractured consideration, but Palm is a band that demands it, GODDAMNIT!!
Palm’s new EP, Shadow Expert, is a breathless blast of knotty, math indie where instruments lock harmoniously and violently jostle in equal measure; ideas are picked up and abandoned with a casual brutality that suits our times, man. Not even the slightest lapse in your focus is allotted for. In the midst of the brief EP I received two texts, and while I didn’t check them (okay, I did) the interruptions forced me to replay the respective tracks from go. Palm’s songs aren’t bed music for your daily montage of email checking and tab opening. Lose a thread in one of their tunes and the whole thing unravels right before your ears.
Another confession: this isn’t the first time I’ve listened to Palm. I checked out their last album, 2015’s Trading Basics, when it landed it on the year-end list of a cooler, younger friend. I didn’t connect with it at all. After discovering that the band members went to an arty, exclusive liberal arts college similar to the one that I attended—where people form inscrutable bands to distance themselves from their past suburban tastes—I was ready to move on to one of the other (too) many albums in my Spotify queue. Mistake though. Big one.
Palm is an exhilarating band when you submit to them. And the 17-minute runtime of Shadow Expert is a perfectly bite-sized introduction to their dense sonic rush. It helps that Palm have refined their technique, and warmed up their sound a bit since their last album, and these alterations make for a more (relatively) agreeable listen.
Opener ‘Walkie Talkie’ is probably the band’s most straightforward song, but it still sounds like a co-ed version of Grizzly Bear undergoing electric shock therapy. Every time the tune seems to balance melodically it’s greeted with a raw nerve jab of post-punk atonality.
Highlight ‘Two Toes,’ starts off with a brave little drum machine straight out of an indie rock confection, but it soon malfunctions, and then a bunch of matted guitars come in and carry it off to die somewhere.
Palm’s vocalists often tangle with each other or other instruments. It’s the aural equivalent of multiples texters shooting off at each other without waiting for the other person to finish. This makes lyrics difficult to decipher, aside from those rare instances where a phrase manages to break free into open space. I have little doubt that this is by design given the egalitarian nature of the mixing.
There are six (short) songs on Shadow Expert, and they’re all good, and unsettling, and roughed up in ways that don’t let your ears coast. Palm’s press packet boasts that their lack of formal training allows them to “determine their own musical language,” (as if they’re the first group of indie rockers not to go to conservatory). This claim would be obnoxious if it weren’t so accurate. This is thrillingly original music that reflects our noisy, anxious psyches, which makes it all the more apropos that most listeners won’t have the attention span for it. If you have the unfettered time to spare (big “if,” I know) give Shadow Expert a go. You might love it, it might make your eyes twitch, but it sure as hell won’t be a passive experience.
Stream ‘Walkie Talkie’ below: