The songs of Palomar are beyond peppy, blasting into full-blown exuberance. An infectious energy runs through all the NYC band's material, fueled by who-knows-what and ending who-knows-where.
Such bubbly vigor was first showcased on the band's self-released eponymous debut, a little-heard but much adored gem (mastered by Fred Smith, bassist of Television). On that first effort, the then-trio's female-fronted songwriting flirted equally with post-punk, riot grrrl, and mod pop. Guitarist Rachel (no surnames have yet been revealed) sang with bittersweet flair, as bassist Sasha and drummer Matt kept up with her all the way, even contributing tight harmonies more often than not. Live, Palomar proved better still, all jittery elasticity on stage.
About three years after debuting, the band now delivers Palomar II, a noticeably tighter and more cohesive album that loses none of the boisterousness of the first. The trio has become a quartet, with Christina assuming rhythm guitar duties. And since the recording of Palomar II, bassist Sasha has been replaced by Sarah, who plays on one track here. As always, it's Rachel's propulsive guitar and singing and Matt's surprisingly versatile drumming that define the band. Rachel sometimes sings too fast for us to glean the precise lyrics (look to the lyric sheet for that), but she also sometimes delivers a lovable falsetto.
Given the band's improved cohesiveness, these songs quickly begin to sound a whole lot alike, but repeated listens help to highlight the distinguishing features of each. The opening "Knockout" is just a perfect lead-in, full of heavenly harmonies and wonderfully twitchy instrumentation. There's so much happening so fast that you almost need to concentrate to catch everything zipping by. The members all sing together, "I'll do anything you want / Go anywhere you want to / K.O.!" and it's impossible to resist. "Static" finds Rachel singing more softly, marked by a bruiser chorus and then feathery drumming and wiry guitar with melodic jangle during the verses.
"Lesion" is especially sugary, opening with the smirking lines, "When you whistle / that means you're happy / That means you're thinking we should be friends" over frantic playing. The hooky chorus -- "There will come a day when all your signs make sense to me / Or there will come a day when I pass this by" -- is a beauty, bristling with more effervescence that can be represented in words. "The Single" is seemingly named so because it could be a hit, but while it's upbeat enough, there are far stronger songs here. "Half-Life" teems with the usual great hooks and drumming, sung suitably by Sasha.
Next is a cover of Brian Eno's "I'll Come Running", a rendition that Palomar makes energetically its own with great guitar and full-on sing-alongs. "Evening Falls at the Buffalo Bar" starts smoothly, with the clinking of dinnerware and conversation in the backdrop. The song features maybe the album's most memorable lyrics, if still sort of silly. Rachel sings, "I picture you sitting in your living room / watching Playboy Channel all around the clock / You always said there's too much of them giving head / And there's not enough of the things you really want", with a chorus of "Now that we're sitting here on ice / I wonder if you know other people can guess what they don't show." A standout track, it is leisurely, witty, and subtly emotional.
"Up!" is the song that should be "The Single," as Rachel tears into a gorgeous harmonies-charged chorus with help from the voices of The Strokes' Nick Fraiture and Albert Hammond Jr., one member of White Collar Crime, and album producer Dave Gardner. If marketed right, it could take college radio by storm, though the same could be said of "Knockout" or "Lesion". The guitars are louder and hold more heft here, and it pays off well. On the mid-tempo "New Day", Rachel sets a nice Springtime-in-New-York scene in McCarren Park, capped by the easily relatable chorus, "You don't do anything you think that I want you to / That's the funny thing / And you don't trust anyone if you think they might rely on you".
Sasha sings "Capital", an angst-ridden kiss-off song aided by jazzy playfulness and the telling symptoms of heartache -- "Can't eat, sleep, drink, or watch TV". "Emily Song" then boasts a punchy "na na na" chorus, while "Either Or" features careful guitar ribbons alongside sharp harmonies. "Trade Off" is noisier but still light on its feet, with Rachel singing, "I wish you never went and called 700 times a day / Cause it's not just the weight / It's the way it weighs me down" with sly charm. The closing "Can't Wake Up": appears to be about baseball and school, but between the lines, probably also advice for post-relationship optimism.
So set in the mode of peppy indie-pop energy, Palomar is something of a one-trick-pony, but it is and always has been a satisfyingly fun trick. Besides, repeated in such short and irresistible doses, it's difficult to tire of. With a reliable label now behind them, Palomar seems set to penetrate further reaches of the rock underground, and it's safe to say that nobody coming across them should leave without a grin.