Friday, May 24, 2013

Palma Violets Circle Half Around 180

Palma Violets
The musical partnership between frontmen Samuel Thomas Fryer and Alexander "Chilli" Jesson will be long remembered as one of the best beginnings of this decade. Along with keyboardist Jeffrey Mayhew and drummer William Martin Doyle, Palma Violets is a contender for releasing what will become recognized as one of the better debuts this year.

The smart and smarmy LP 180 does a brilliant job balancing the somber and sensational, mournful and mesmerizing. It's nearly impossible to stop listening to the 11-track album on one pass, especially as the tone, tempo and vocals are so richly varied that the grooves of any vinyl LP will be worn away before the sound ever gets tired.

Palma Violets set the bar as an alternative rock band to watch.

Although the four-peice from London formed in 2010, the band originally struggled to get a solid start. That all changed last year when they secured a residency at Studio 180, a cheap repurposed house in Lambeth that also inspired the name of the album. Surrounded by like-minded creatives helped as did a steady stream of fans who set out to share their indie discovery online.

Although easily cast as an indie rock band with some psychedelic tendencies, there are just enough pop sensible songs to make them a sharply drawn alternative band in the vein of the Velvet Underground and Vaccines without sounding like either. They rarely sound like anyone, except when the melody is so intended it's almost awkward, like the opening of Step Up For The Cool Cats.

It's intentional, of course. The majority of the lyrics woven together in that track are a testament to Neil Diamond (not the Monkees as some people try to suggest). They've added several inside jokes in plain sight inside the album and most of them work, even if the hidden track Brand New Song plays more like a show closer than anything precisely serious.

Although Step Up For The Cool Cats was this year's album teaser and Best Of Friends opens the album, the best tracks to listen to first are unceremoniously positioned as track 4 and track 9. Rattlesnake Highway is a grimy, upbeat rackety summer sound with plenty of fuzz and We Found Love drives the Velvet Underground comparisons home (considering one of the riffs feels like Sweet Jane) while the song breaks away from the verse-chorus trappings that pop always wants to tie itself to.

That's not to say Best Of Friends doesn't measure up as the lead in on the album. It only means that there are plenty more to hear beyond track one, which was clearly crafted to give their generation a convincing aging into adulthood theme song. On its own, Best Of Friend is great, given it contains equal parts right now and remembrance.

Ironically, the most interesting instrumental and vocal arrangements pop up in unexpected places. While Chicken Dippers isn't introduction material, it's one of several songs where Mayhew proves to be a bit of a hero alongside those deeply penetrating vocals. Tom The Drum is also an equally compelling number, somehow blending crooner sarcasm with Jim Morrison influences.

Last Of The Summer Wine is another confessional that takes on a much broodier tone than most of the album. If you download singles as opposed to the full album, include it among the immediate favorites like Rattlesnake Highway. Mostly though, 180 is worth an album download given the diversity, with Three Stars on one extreme as a mellow storyteller and the party favor Johnny Bagga Donuts on the other.

180 By Palma Violets Spins Around Half Circle For 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

All in all, 180 is a tough album to pin down in that the labels some reviewers have heaped upon them were a bit premature, but the down rating by other reviewers to compensate was deftly asinine. Without any pretense, 180 is a timelessly fun album that borrows a bit too much from the past to truly be a breakthrough album but clearly introduces a band that can convincingly play a range of alternative rock songs, with varied tones and tempos, that still sound cohesive.

You can find 180 from Palma Violets on Amazon. The album can also be ordered from Barnes & Noble or you can download it from iTunes. The band is currently kicking off its world tour, with plans to play a few shows stateside in August. You can check out their sporadic schedule on Facebook.
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