Philadelphia

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.

REVIEW: Palm - Rock Island

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Phillipe Roberts

In the race to classify the formidable sounds devised by Philadelphia-via-Hudson quartet Palm, genres are constantly tossed in and out of the running. Owing to their use of odd-metered melodies, math rock is most common, but universally rejected by the band themselves. Art rock comes in close second, a solid attempt at capturing the constant friction between the barbed abstractions etching their way across the songs. On past releases like last year’s Shadow Expert EP, where those jagged edges were a little more pronounced, that might’ve done the trick.

Less than a year later, sitting atop the treasure trove of marvelous tunes that is Rock Island, the problem presents itself again. Allow me to suggest a solution: Rock Island is Palm’s dream pop record. But beyond the typical sense of reverb-soaked vocals and extensive reliance on atmosphere, Palm returns with songs that speak the erratic language of dreams. Far from the disorienting structures that dominated their earlier work, the world of Rock Island is almost instantly familiar. Give your ears a few bars to adjust to the surroundings and each track begins to operate on an inviting and singular internal logic that only peels apart as its component parts fade into memory.

Question how those guitars are dancing impossible steps around the drums, how the dimensions of the songs shrink and expand so freely, or why steel drums of all things are just about everywhere, and you’ll scratch your head all day long. Sink into it, let it sweep you away, take in the hazy tropical scenery. The more you surrender, the more vibrant and addicting it becomes. Spend a day on Rock Island and you might end up pleasantly marooned.

In contrast to previous efforts, there’s an invigorating sense of conceptual wholeness to the proceedings this time around. Even as dual vocalist/guitarists Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt develop further into their own unique styles, the grab-bag approach of yesteryear falls by the wayside. It’s almost a shame that Palm have moved in the direction of prominent vocals; the twin instrumental tracks “Theme From Rock Island,” a sprightly bossa nova jam, and “20664,” a taste of subterranean footwork, would make phenomenal soundtrack pieces if they weren’t busy populating Rock Island with strange flora and fauna.

But it's not much of a shame, as the vocal work on this record is razor sharp, with clearer presentation and direction than ever. “Dog Milk” is far and away the poppiest cut Palm has produced, with Kasra taking point on a rollercoaster of sunny Beach Boys harmonies surrounded by a glittering panorama of MIDI steel drums that’ll have you grinning ear to ear, and his turn on the lumbering 8-bit sunbather “Swimmer” adds a dreary touch to the Cluster-attempts-reggae backing. Eve Alpert is no slouch, outdoing her beautiful work on Shadow Expert’s title track with a few R&B vocal slides on prog-pop opener “Pearly” and taking lead on shoegaze fantasy closer “Didn’t What You Want Happen,” bookending the record with two takes on surrealist crooning. Drummer Hugo Stanley and bassist Gerasimos Livitsanos round out the band with locked-in, yet highly embellished grooves that propel a constantly undulating wall of sound through arrangements that, despite massive sonic shifts, never feel too busy or haphazard.

Rock Island is the first record where Palm truly settles into a consensus of sound, owning their position at the vanguard of a psychedelic renaissance, tapping into the subconscious for a futuristic vision that dwells on the boundary between inner and outer space. Catch a glimpse before they dissolve it entirely.

REVIEW: Tall Friend - Safely Nobody's

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Laura Kerry

Tall Friend’s new album Safely Nobody’s begins with a song called “Mother,” which is a recorded voicemail played over a subdued bass line. The voice addresses Charlie (Pfaff), the driving force behind the trio, through tears: “It’s Mom. Everything will be ok. I love you so much.”  

It’s a striking half-minute recording, as much for the display of unpolished, maternal emotion as for the fact that the band opted to include it in their album. Tall Friend, also comprised of Cale Cuellar and Jesse Paller, describes Safely Nobody’s as “a documentation of me packing up and unboxing many, many years of hurt.” Right at the start of the album, “Mother” makes a promise that it will spare nothing in that documentation.

What follows in the next eight songs, though, unfolds with lightness and beauty. In contrast to the direct and affecting voicemail that haunts the ensuing music, the rest of Tall Friend’s hurts emerge in fragments. The mother returns throughout the album alongside other family members and people not mentioned by name, hinting at what hurts may have inspired it. The mom calls from a hospital to say “happy birthday” in “Oats,” the narrator finds a video of themselves dancing with their father when they were four in “Apoptosis,” and they face the threat of goodbye on “Radio.” Narrated over loose and lo-fi combinations—sometimes delicate, sometimes punchy—of bright guitar, simple bass, and tight, soft drums in songs that last no longer than around two minutes, the stories on Safely Nobody’s are raw but skeletal, and not without sweetness.

Both rawness and sweetness emerge in extremes on Pfaff’s vocals. They primarily sing with a breathy tone that borders on twee, but they darken the edges from time to time. In “72,” the low, psychedelic repetition in the verse offers deeper, huskier tones; the close, foregrounded vocals on “Radio” sound sharp against the dissonant, jittery composition; and on “Apoptosis," Pfaff’s chant-like singing is simultaneously intimate and echoing, like a sorcerer reciting spells in a small cave. Pain—family strife, romantic heartbreak—has the ability to render you childlike in one moment and wise beyond your years in the next. Throughout the album, Tall Friend captures this phenomenon through both the vocals and lyrics (“I have been grown since I was small," they say to their mother on “Oats,” “I'm still little, but what does that mean?” they sing on “Skate Ramp,” and “At playtime, I’m always the doggy” in “KB”).

There’s nothing childlike about Tall Friend’s songwriting, though. Practicing a skill even harder than divulging raw, unfiltered emotion in lyrics, Pfaff manages to capture feeling through poetic insinuation. Safely Nobody’s is filled with diversions and stand-ins. “Natural Things” focuses on the lighting of a match but ends with a self-effacing observation: “You like me / When I'm not so loud.” In “KB”—one of the standouts on the album—their dad “watches storms like he's looking in the mirror / Like if he squints hard enough he'll become the lightning.” The song ebbs and flows through fathers, lightning, myths, playtime, nectarines, and fake praying, but it ends with a punch in the gut: “I love you, could I make it any clearer?”  

In that kind of moment, found throughout Safely Nobody’s, Tall Friend accomplishes exactly what they intend; “I ... know that there are people out there still feeling desolate and unsure of what tomorrow will bring. I hope that these songs will provide a little bit of solace,” Pfaff writes in the album’s notes. Like the best soul-bearing music or a message from a loved one, solace is exactly what Tall Friend brings.

Check out Tall Friend playing "KB" live in the Blue Room here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Grubby Little Hands - No Such Thing

Laura Kerry

Grubby Little Hands’ music video for “No Such Thing” is many things at different times. In the quiet build-up marked by the fade-in of voices and a slide guitar, the camera creeps up on a large stone house, looking ominous in a blue-tinted filter. Then, as the door to the house opens, both the song and shot brighten. A dancing woman sporting shorts and sunglasses, appropriate for the jangly tune that has emerged, leads the camera as she dances away, suggesting a lighthearted, party-themed video. From there, though, “No Such Thing” takes several delightfully strange turns, introducing an unexpected cast of characters, passing off a lip-sync among several idiosyncratic scenes, and dissolving into psychedelic effects.

From last year’s Garden Party—also an unexpected ride through bright pop, grungy psych, silliness, and seriousness—the video is the event that the album’s title suggests. In “No Such Thing,” Grubby Little Hands invites you to mingle among ‘60s-style go-go dancers, a cheerleader and a jock, a skateboarder, a painter on a pool table, and a baby wearing a shawl in a summery party that you won’t want to leave.

PREMIERE: QQQ - The Pharmacy

Kelly Kirwan

QQQ is an artist of few words. Or, at least, the “about” sections of his profiles stick to the essentials, simply labeling his music as electronic and dance. His sounds are densely packed, and as such, don't require a lengthy introduction. True to form, his latest track, "The Pharmacy," is an array of skittering synths that fall together in odd shapes and varied textures, backlit by a vintage computer screen. It’s a sputtering, digitized pattern that has few lyrics, all delivered in a warped voice.

QQQ has created a landscape with a foundation of ricocheting beats and hints of nostalgia—"The Pharmacy" is reminiscent of a switchboard overloading, full of wires short-circuiting as electricity courses through every socket. At one point the song takes on a crinkling, static trajectory that sounds like a distant cousin of a dial-up login. Towards the end, there’s an almost sci-fi turn, with a spooky, electronic flourish that might score a Hollywood UFO sighting.

With its revved-up synths, roiling beats, and retro sheen, "The Pharmacy" is a track that'll certainly give you your fix.