Palms, a collaboration between Deftones lead singer Chino Moreno and three members of post-metal legends Isis, is a promising if not quite fully formed experiment.
You hate to see a band like Isis go. The Los Angeles-by-way-of-Boston quartet, who with releases like Oceanic, Panopticon, and the underrated Wavering Radiant established the canonical post-metal formula aped by countless instrumental metal bands today, had just hit a new career high with Radiant when its break-up was announced. Then, last year, Temporal, a posthumous collection of B-sides and rarities, was released; amongst other things, the two-disc set included unreleased gems like “Grey Divide", a stark reminder that there was undoubtedly a lot of potential left in Isis.
Clearly, a majority of the group thought so too: following Isis’ demise, Aaron Harris, Clifford Meyer, and Jeff Caxide -- former drummer, guitarist, and bassist, respectively -- stated their desire to continue making music together. Not long after, they were joined by Deftones lead singer Chino Moreno, with whom the trio formed a new project named Palms. Moreno, a fan of the band, has a voice distinct from that of Isis frontman Aaron Turner, which provided the three with a clear means of distinguishing themselves as something more than Isis with a different singer. The technique of the eponymous debut by Palms, however, centers on a basic juxtaposition; simply put, Palms really is “Deftones meets Isis". Isis’ signature bass timbre is all over this LP, and the emphasis on the low end comes out in the tried-and-true rhythmic interplay between Harris and Caxide. Meanwhile there’s Moreno, whose drawn out, warbled vocal harkens to the mellower aspects of Deftones’ discography, whilst simultaneously bringing Palms firmly into alt-rock territory -- albeit alt-rock that’s heavy on the bass and longer in composition. While Palms may be a new sound for the ex-Isis trio and Moreno, the composite parts that went into the making of this record are nothing revelatory.
The core style of Palms is captured well in both its name and sleeve art. The opening seconds of “Future Warrior” for a moment bring to mind Don Henley circa Building the Perfect Beast, which -- despite the song’s venturing into Isis-isms for the bulk of its runtime -- isn’t that far off a comparison. Palms evokes the rays of sunlight that are able to spearhead through the grimy layer of pollution that encapsulates Los Angeles; it’s summery, but the mind is flooded with images not of bikinis on beaches but rather the sweltering, at times unforgivable heat. This is the sort of melancholy that Dashboard Confessional peddles in quite heavily, particularly on Dusk and Summer, which would have been a fitting title for this LP. But whereas Chris Carrabba wafts in these beams of light so as to remember all the women he’s loved and lost, Palms get caught up in cosmic, referenceless images (the demons and queens of “Patagonia”) that aren’t all that compelling. Ultimately these don’t detract from experiencing this album, however; what really sells this band is mood.
Dreamy and textural, Palms is quite good at evoking what it’s meant to, and instrumentally all the musicians here play an impressive game. Ebb and flow is part of what made Isis so distinctive, and despite Palms paling significantly in comparison to that group, they carry on its legacy without tarnishing its name, even as they recycle its stylistics. As much as the ex-Isis part of this band may wish to continue in old rhythms, it could benefit this music to loosen the grasp Isis' trademark rumble has on their sound. Still, though this isn’t the cleanest of breaks, even in this not-quite realized state, Palms gives more than a few indications that there could be more on the sun-stroked horizon for these guys.