Palms’ Palms, released 25 June 2013 on Ipecac Records
“Antarctic Handshake” // Grade: 1.5 / 10
is a collaboration between distinctive (take it or leave it) musicians Chino
Moreno (vox) of Deftones and Jeff Caxide (b-g), Aaron Harris (d), and Clifford
Meyer (e-g) of Isis. Though the prospect
itself is stimulating, Palms [and Palms’ debut (Palms)] prove unfruitful
in execution. Specifically, the musicians have not thought through their aesthetic choices. They pay drastically
insufficient attention to the development and expansion of the merely germinal
ideas throughout each song, especially
to the lyrical content, which is — let me level with you — terrible. Moreno’s pretty singing would only be
justified, sensate, or moving if said
lyrics were genuinely lyrical; because they are, instead, childish and wanting,
the entire juggernaut crumbles.
would think that, if anything could
remediate Moreno’s performance, it would be three members of Isis — but it is
not so. The talented doom metal idylls have been relegated to a sideshow for
the pathetic vocalizations; Caxide, Meyer and Harris are the ‘house band,’ the
house salad, a cup of soup. Though the accompaniment varies from lush and
ambient to paced and cagey, the listener can’t understand why Isis’ titans, not
only talented, but sensible (musicians,
sensible people, people, people with ears) would sit back or allow
themselves to be caged. Knowing the stakes of this collaboration and precisely whom
it’s between makes Palms even worse than it sounds.
talk about Moreno’s voice: it’s theatrical, whiny, and tirelessly self-aware.
Hypothetically, it might be good that Moreno is unafraid to sound both sanctified
and grasping, but it isn’t — in fact, it’s as excoriating for the listener as
watching Norma Desmond’s affectations in Sunset Boulevard. In attempting
to produce prettiness, he sounds ugly, and in trying to produce emotion, he
sounds histrionic; we wish he’d been
afraid, or at least used level judgment. Simply put, Moreno doesn’t have the
vocal equipment for what he barely tries to do, and the performance is utterly,
terribly misplaced; for instance, listen to the final chorus of “Shortwave Radio,”
and late in “Mission Sunset”: he’s not
making interesting choices to be non-compliant … he’s actually just missing the
note. This is the trouble with the entire record: not only do Palms not make smart choices, they do not make
choices at all — and so they don’t make and meet standards. The album is an
uncreative lyrical and musical stupor that not even the best musician here, Aaron
Harris, can rescue.
the vocals are overproduced, ‘tunneling’ to tart up and dramatize uninteresting
lyrics or ‘sloping’ (where the pitch bends flat several steps to meet a
previous pitch, a la Circa Survive)
to evoke an insular instability. But the genius of Circa Survive’s production
and Anthony Green’s performance is that it is undercooked — with rarified
expression of entirely relatable emotion. Their best lyrics are coring to
apprehend — and with Palms, the overcooked self-consciousness, the laxity of genuine
expression itself reveals the lack of the emotional situation, …and, thus,
Moreno’s posturing, …and everything falls apart from there.
is left doing the best he can with what lyrics do work, that is, mediocre turns
of phrase: “You could never turn around / You could never turn away” he bawls
on “Mission Sunset.” No, but we sure want to. Unfortunately, the song resorts
to rehashing — indeed, regurgitating —
this, its one-and-only promising lyricality. And since the songs are so
imprudently long-form, “Mission Sunset” lasts for 10 god-forsaken minutes —
the audience is forced not just to
listen once but to endure.
song on Palms seemingly emerged from a promising musical nugget (e.g. the
drum roll on “Patagonia,” the vocal ornament in the pre-chorus of “Future
Warrior”), but the songs fail to use these devices as a springboard, merely
engorging a nice hook or a single sound into directionless, repetitive, torpid
songs. As though if you’ve thought of a few bars that are ‘neat’ should be
overfed until they take up 10 minutes of someone’s life, or as if what’s
necessary is sufficient! This complacency is unforgivable, no matter how
intriguing a conceit one begins from.
The best example of this issue is “Short Wave Radio,” which reaches its
creative pinnacle at Moreno’s elegant ornamentation on “goodbye” —
ornamentation that is both 90’s and glam — and the equally eloquent collusion
of drums and keyboard. But when the band fails to develop and crystallize the
performance, and specifically, when the lyrical element falls flat on its face
(i.e. never ever start a song with “I
don’t know what to say”), the song not only ceases to challenge the listener —
it becomes stultifying.
Aaron Harris is the only musician here who comes through as contributing up to
snuff. The roll on “Patagonia” is especially captivating, a behind-the-beat
rise with the omitted beat one virtually audible in its unilateral book-ended absence.
of the production is nuanced to great effect (e.g. “And she fell through your
ha-ands” contains a nice modulation), but on the whole it’s terribly disjoined:
effects slathered on where bare, unprocessed brevity is needed, and ameliorative
mastering not added to sequences that could use a band-aid (or a medic). And
though the collaborative aesthetic fails for the most part, the mood of
“Tropics” is lush and could be gorgeous — except that, by track 5 (out of 6), we’re
waiting for the album to be over.
only astute and enjoyable composition is “Antarctic Handshake,” an
exceptionally atmospheric Australnesian vacation that doesn’t purport to feel
any angst and can exist in its own beauty, kindly unrevealed to be so shallow
and so unfelt. “Handshake” is the only song that doesn’t try to be evocative,
and, so, succeeds. Palms’ production and disastrous lyrics are self-absorbed,
and only “Handshake” steps outside of Palms’ musical blinders. Unsurprisingly,
it is presidingly, blessedly instrumental, with washes of oceanic feedback, the
soft sun-dappled terrain of hushed tidal bass, and sparkling, reverberant
guitar calls: more Isis, less Moreno.
much for this collaboration. Nothing about this work is work, working, laudable, brave, interesting, or
even palatable. Palms (of course
it’s self-titled) is simply a distasteful album.
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