Palms: It's Midnight in Honolulu

Jennifer Kelly

A cross-continental collaboration between Berliner Nadja Korinth and New York's Ryan Schaefer juxtaposes synthetic modernism and unearthly wails, silly love songs, and ritual-drummed drones. It's a mix that's always fascinating, but not quite cohesive.


It's Midnight in Honolulu

Label: Rare Book Room
US Release Date: 2008-09-09
UK Release Date: Available as import

Palms is one of those bands that exists in theory more than actuality. Its two songwriters live thousands of miles apart. Nadja Korinth resides mostly in Berlin, but is often, as an employee of BBC news, elsewhere. Ryan Schaefer, a native of the Midwest, now calls New York City home. For this, their first collaboration, the two developed songs separately (very separately), meeting only in the studio to align their separate visions.

It's Midnight in Honolulu is therefore, and perhaps necessarily, a diverse and heterogeneous album, with lo-fi pop songs sitting alongside electro-rants, primitive ululations atop machine-age sampled beats. Songs are sung in three different languages, predominantly English and German, but also French, and yet sound not so much like pretentious displays of abilities, but rather, dispatches from far-flung locations. It is possible, maybe even necessary, to enjoy this album without ever really getting a handle on it. Is it electrified freak folk? Experimental pop? Particularly melodic drone? Primitive-obsessed IDM? Yes and no. Sometimes. Maybe.

Consider, for instance, the arresting "Monte Alban". It's a lucid dream of a piece ... weird vibrating female vocals, and synthetic keyboards arguing for the utter clarity of digital sound. You can hear the same banshee wail in opener "Der Koenig", weaving in and around a rigid electro beat, primitive and modern making an uneasy, otherworldly pact.

The album is unclassifiable, tracks united mostly by heavy, ritual drums and post-modern, un-inflected singing. You get the sense that the duo never pinned down exactly what they wanted to do before starting, but just went with the flow of what each individual was writing. The middle of the album, for instance, is like a particularly free-form mix tape, the kind where your friend picks out his favorite songs without thinking much about how they'll go together.

No question about it, "New Moon", "Hang Your Head" and "Leather Daddies" are all good tracks. But what do they have to do with each other? Not much. "New Moon" is arguably the prettiest track on the album, a soft-focus, reverbed wash of dream-altered voice and guitar textures. It's like a softer, more accessible "Blown a Wish" (from My Bloody Valentine's Loveless). It's followed by the defiant, discordant, blues-folk "Hang Your Head", which sounds like Jana Hunter. And finally, Schaefer sings the lo-fi fuzzy "Leather Daddies", which may get you thinking about Pavement, Guided by Voices, and Sebadoh, but not about anything else on It's Midnight at Honolulu. This sounds like a rip, but perhaps consistency is overrated. These are the three outliers, but they are also the three most memorable songs on the album.

It's Midnight In Honolulu may not be the smoothest conceptual ride, but it is, nonetheless, a real pleasure to listen to. Maybe you can't develop a cohesive vision working on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe you don't have to.

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