I usually manage to put up a pretty good front that I only listen to complex, cerebral art music. But, as a lifelong snob, I've learned that sometimes there's an art to indulgence. Painted Palms' sophomore LP, Horizons, is a great example of how apparently straightforward pop can be retooled into something gripping and unexpected.
It seems fitting that the Bay Area duo, comprised of vocalist Chris Prudhomme and producer Reese Donohue, pieced this latest album together via email—it's the ultimate medium for postmodern collaboration. That may sound like an unnecessarily pretentious way of framing it (and it may very well be), but I think there's something about working in a relatively detached digital medium that makes it easier to deconstruct and repurpose styles from the past.
Horizons is exactly that: a contemporary take on '80s synth pop that plays to its strengths without suffering from its limitations. A lot of the throwback sounds being released today seem a bit too reliant on retro cheesiness as a crutch, but Painted Palms have used their forebears as seeds rather than templates. The resulting music is very much their own.
There's a common thread of driving, energetic beats that runs through nearly every track and rarely lets up. Coupled with the band's signature dancefloor synths, it's hard not to bob your head for the (admittedly short, at just 38 minutes) duration. Tracks like "Refractor," "Gemini," "Echoes," and the triumphant "Waterfall" are consistently infectious.
My only complaint, if I had to come up with one, is that the songs have a tendency to blend together after a few listens. While Painted Palms' sound is foot-tappingly fun, the only track that really breaks the mold is the penultimate "Painkiller." It's dark and a bit more contemplative than the rest of the album (with the possible exception of "Disintegrate," but even that perks up by the chorus), and I would've liked to see them explore that mood further.
That said, Horizons' consistency might be its greatest asset. You know what you're going to get when you throw on a Painted Palms record: synth pop that's been elevated from bubblegum to punchy and engrossing. To quote "Painkiller," "I don't know what you give me / But I know I want some more."