Music Reviews
Rock Island

Palm Rock Island

(Carpark) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

The pursuit of creativity goes beyond our grasp. Working toward something that is completely original has its merits, but it’s also a terrible way to approach any work of art. I thought about this a lot while I went on a weekend getaway to Palm’s Rock Island, an artful post-punk statement that attempts to enliven the apparent normalcy of indie rock in 2018. The Philadelphia four-piece challenge this idea by taking constant abstract detours, as they envision a world where musical notes take the form of polygons. The use of jagged, angular polyrhythms isn’t in any way novel, but Palm’s wholehearted abandon of structure and rigid composition is a commendable achievement.

But Palm’s ruthless unconformity does come at a price. Mind their inquisitive songwriting abilities, their technical virtuosity also sounds disconnected and directionless. Akin to listening to two bands played simultaneously at once, the majority of Rock Island quickly changes course just as they’re acclimating to a groove, sometimes in a matter of seconds. There are shades of what Palm could accomplish if they’d iron out some of these wrinkles - take Composite, for example, where they sketch a lovely, psychedelic melody inspired by Smile-era Beach Boys and completely tarnish it with a flat, mathy arrangement. Ideas are fleeting and better left forgotten, sometimes scrapped in a matter of seconds and never to return.

Palm may think that pairing incongruent parts together shows thoughtful skill. And conceptually speaking, there’s a charm to how Rock Island’s festive tropical feel maintains an offbeat uniformity. They prove it to a considerable degree on Dog Island, the album’s most fully-realized track - the band shifts incessantly between a looped steelpan sample drum and berserk-sounding horns as they harmonize nonsensically in an oddly inviting way. Palm are very assured of Dog Island, so much so that they end up playing that same trick many times over when a little more variety could’ve done them well. Forced Hand follows and it’s practically a facsimile of Dog Island, except that they tweak the dissonance just a notch. They like to modify their sound in fits and starts, which in turn, limits their potential as a collective unit.

But that’s not to say that Rock Island also has some redeeming moments - the loungy Heavy Lifting reimagines the cocktail-dinner chic of Stereolab but with a more nihilistic bent; their tangled interplay is more streamlined and better because of it. The same can be said for Color Code, where they futz with all these kinds of zany effects with the natural curiosity of a toddler. It left me wanting for more, and though it was also another underdeveloped piece of their intricate puzzle, it at least eliminated some of the tedium attributed to their barbed guitar playing.

Palm do stand out from their contemporaries on Rock Island, especially since they equally embrace and rile against indie rock as a conservative movement. Their nonconformist aesthetic is imbued with an independent spirit, even if the sources they pull from prevents them from really taking off.