Palomar: All Things, Forests

[22 May 2007]

By Tyler Womack

All Things, Forests is Palomar’s fourth full-length, and the first to break the trend of numbered, self-titled albums. Though it’s one shy of Led Zeppelin’s infamous self-titled streak, it doesn’t signal that the band is settling in, or resting on its laurels; instead of rehashing the winsome girl-pop of their previous albums, here Palomar turns the action up a notch. All Things, Forests is a loud, punchy feast of power-pop anthems. And though it can feel like a long meal by the end of the album, it’s ultimately a tasty find.

Palomar has made a name for itself in the last nine years, due in no small part to the patronage of a few notable punk-rock icons. This is unique, considering that the band has never quite lived up to the punk aesthetic. Previous albums drew comparisons to Heavenly and Go Sailor. And though the group has always been feisty, until now they never turned up the electrics. Instead, they’ve narrowly avoided being lumped into girl-band territory, that netherworld where cuteness is considered a substitute for talent.

All Things, Forests erases any signs that Palomar may merely be a set of pretty faces. Here, they flex their musicians’ muscles, making songs full of dense, intricate instrumentation. They make excellent use of a variety of guitar and bass effects; each song feels graced by a series of well-thought-out musical motifs. Opener “Bury Me Closer” is a bouncy number, simultaneously ethereal and crunchy. The percussion sounds like it makes use of a variety of surfaces, none of them actual drums. Twin harmonies fill out the effect, making the song a dead-ringer for something Tilly and the Wall might have produced last year.  “Top Banana”, meanwhile, could have dropped out of Manchester in 1981. A combination of rapid, undeniably artificial drums and a New Order guitar line make it definite dance floor fodder. The picture is made complete by an ever-present synthesizer, seemingly there merely to produce interstellar effects.

After several listens, a dominant theme does appear on the album: Distant, echoed drums, deep bass and crunchy guitars. This sound doesn’t just drive many of the songs; it dominates the album. Nowhere is this as apparent as in the trifecta of “Beats Beat Nothing”, “He Came to Stay” and “Bridge of Sighs”. Strung together, they dampen the sense of variety on All Things, Forests. In these moments, it sounds more throw-back than leap-forward. The sound comes out as late-‘90s power-pop. In its better moments, they ape the Amps or That Dog. At other times, they sound positively mainstream.

Thematically, the songs range through a number of topics—none of them particularly happy. The most joyful-seeming song may be “Bury Me Closer”, an atheist ballad of eternal love. “You’re Keeping Us Up” is more grateful than rambunctious; its conversational male and female vocals sing praise to a distant friend. “Top Banana” wryly describes the fashion trends and backstage manner of an exiled debutante. It’s probably the most fanciful song on the album. Outside of these smile-worthy ditties, All Things, Forests gets downright depressing. “How to Beat Dementia” misanthropically seeks to answer its own question. “Alone” is an intricate farewell.

One notable entry in the band’s catalogue is break-up ballad “The Air Between Us”. In terms of production, it’s a strange brew. The static sound of faint brushing provides much of the song’s percussion. Separate guitar lines—somewhat at odds with each other—underline Rachel Warren’s somber delivery. As the song ends, the tail of a completely different song begins playing.

The dynamic between aural experiment and well-measured power-pop defines All Things, Forests. In its worst moments, it’s formulaic; in its best, it’s raucous and punchy. Palomar ditched its own conventions on this album. The result is impressive, in terms of sheer rock-ability. As an album, it can be filling, tiresome and overly long. Thankfully, the gems outweigh the sleepers, and the pop rolls on.

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