9 Feb 2018
Rock Island by Palm is like a band ate all of the rock and roll and recorded the sound of vomiting it back up. Rock Island by Palm is child's painting hanging in the Louvre. Rock Island by Palm is a computer-generated Zebra dancing on the piano from BiG with Robert Loggia. Rock Island by Palm is a karaoke band covering the ultimate anti-indie rock album in reverse with randomly generated tempos. Rock Island by Palm is more creative than the last seven U2 albums combined. Rock Island by Palm is a film with four directors and no script. Rock Island by Palm is psychedelia and math and a dream and what?
Originally meeting in New York, the band claims no formal training on any of their instruments. Taking cues from Deerhoof instrumentally and Animal Collective in vocal intonations, they are an indie rock fan's dream. They sound like rock tropes minimized into a peculiar concentrate. Eve Alpert and Karsa Kurt's guitars are rhythmic like electronic loops then morphing immediately into aggregate post-rock noise compounds.
The guitar on "Composite" for example repeats like Ableton while still retaining its human quality. The hook on "Dog Milk" replays without ear weariness and adds diacritic drums on top, underneath, around and inside of the hook. The grooves permeate each piece in a non-linear form. At 1:45 in "Dog Milk" I for sure feel what's happening, but I can't necessarily explain it. They use opening hooks on verses and then also on choruses and then also on bridges and links and in spaces making the whole track feel like one massive math rock fever dream. At four minutes there is a funky Flea-type bass break plus a melodic overtone, and then the whole tempo slows and the hook is still ringing out.
The music is riff focused, but the constant motion is so playfully distracting it would be fair to say there is no focus. Think Battles, but instead of muscular its focus is individual band member freedom. Other highlights include album closer "(Didn't What You Want) Happen" and "Color Code" which sounds like desultory midi data from Brian Eno's email draft folder with Marnie Stern's guitar blended in. It's not all Deerhoof spin-off material though. "Swimmer" has weirdo horns and a Flaming Lips groove similar to the spacey tracks on Yoshimi. "20664" is a continuation of those themes as well as a needed breather before the closer.
I have spent the majority of this review comparing Palm to other artists – so are they just clever thieves? Not at all, and that is the beauty of Palm and of Rock Island. When you have 200 influences, it's nearly impossible to rip off any of them. Rock Island is like a musical mole. There I go with the similes and metaphors again.
Rock Island by Palm is the best indie rock record of 2018 and I doubt anything else will come even close. We, the people, are responsible for loving bonkers music like this or else we will get stuck with Bruno Mars playlists the rest of our lives. Keep music weird!