REVIEW: Palberta - Roach Goin' Down

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Phillipe Roberts

Palberta announce their presence with a screeching “We’re Palbertaaaaa!” in the closing third of Roach Goin’ Down, delivering a clunky, bass-heavy hip-hop beat sprinkled with blips of detuned guitar. Like a professional wrestler playing their entrance song just before delivering that perfectly choreographed pile-driving finisher, the move would feel anti-climatic and awkward if it wasn’t so characteristically them to ignore any conventional order of operations while spitting on your expectations. Live, the trio switch instruments almost as fast as they leap between ideas, a would-be performance gimmick that illuminates just how damn singular their approaches are behind the kit and in front of an amp. On the strength of showmanship and increasingly bizarre songcraft, Palberta has become a bit of an open-secret sensation, but Roach Goin’ Down is their strongest argument yet for blowing the doors wide open.

For all of those individual qualities and instrumental quirks, what makes Roach Goin’ Down such a big leap over its predecessors is how accomplished they’ve become at fusing them into a seamless—albeit slightly prickly—whole. Highlight track “In My Fame - Jug!” is ruthlessly efficient with melodies. Its first section is a pile-on of scraggly guitar, bass chords, and splashing percussion, ricocheting off each other in a thrilling chain-reaction explosion. As it glides to earth to start part two, soft guitar strums carve a path onwards—not towards a conclusion, but a circular conversation that fades gradually into the distance, a sound they explore again on “Jumping From Lamp to Lamp,” with an added dose of sprightly loneliness.

Indeed, despite the textural and tonal grit that Palberta are fond of, the outright poppiness of punk tracks like “Big Time” sound almost too smooth to be the work of a noise (or noise-inclined, if you will) band—until they tear it off like a BandAid in the last few seconds with a howling sax solo. The titular chanting in “Cherry Baby” cleaves through the wonky pulsing of horns and bass around it, detuned to its surroundings but perfectly preserved in an airtight bubble that’ll keep you humming it for days. Palberta have always performed this delicate balancing act, but these snippets of hypnotic warmth have never sounded so deliberate, even if they come packaged with an equally fierce punchline.

Roach Goin’ Down’s cover art features the visages Ani Ivry-Block, Lily Konigsberg, and Nina Ryser whipped into a single slimy heap, differentiated only by glasses, teeth, and hair, in a real case of blended identity that mirrors the album. Unless you see them perform the songs live, it’s nearly impossible to tell who wrote or played what part. And somehow, the longer you listen to Roach Goin’ Down, or allow yourself to be taken in by the wacky, impulsive construct that is Palberta, the less you feel the violent urge to deconstruct and divide that gooey whole into something piecemeal. If you need things to make microscopic sense, don’t listen to this album. If you want to hear Hall and Oates’ “Rich Girl” transfigured into a Rage Against the Machine-style basher, exposed for the bloated corpse of a track it was by way of annihilation, you may have found your record of the year.