Palma Violets, ‘180’ – Album Review
If you're unaware of the fact that Palma Violets had what British music mag the NME considers the No. 1 single of 2012, you're not alone. Over the years, due to subtle cultural differences, a host of U.K. bands ranging from the Jam and Blur to the Klaxons and Libertines never really made the impact in the States that they did in their homeland. A group like Palma Violets is liable to slip under the radars of even professional music critics.
The difference between this London group and the aforementioned bands is that it's hard to imagine Palma Violets not making it in the States. Though their debut, '180,' is undeniably British in its blood, bones and breath, it's immediate in such a way that style becomes irrelevant. The sense of urgency renders their accents an afterthought, and their affinity for howling in their songs is far from stereotypical. Listening to '180,' you can practically see their crazed eyes, and they conjure images of Pete Doherty as an actual member of the Libertines, not as the drug-addled celeb he's been since that once-fiery foursome fizzled out.
Or, to put it in elevator-pitch form, the Palmas are WU LYF meet the Rolling Stones.
That single the NME loves so completely, 'Best of Friends,' is deserving of its praise. It will forever play in full cars transporting mates to the city and blare at karaoke dives, where it's destined to become a drunk-dude standard. 'Best of Friends' sounds both classic and fresh, and while the band knows it's an inconsequential rock song, they don't skimp on sentiment. Instead, they deliver the all-time great inconsequential rock song, presenting simplicity like it means everything in the world. Many of the garage-rock groups gaining a foothold here in the States attempt similar goals, but Palma Violets nail it on track one of their first album.
Of course, nothing else on '180' can match this musical moment, but Palma Violets don't let a 10-run lead stop them from swinging the bat. 'Step Up From the Cool Cats' finds Samuel Thomas Fryer singing in a Matt Berninger-on-a-three-day-drunk slurring baritone. Alexander "Chilly" Jesson, meanwhile, delivers his leads with a snotty snarl reminiscent of Joe Strummer or the Black Lips' Jared Swilley. It's an uncontrollable tenor that would sound best complimented by some cassette-tape hiss.
The Palmas are that rare band that might have existed at home in England at the dawn of punk or in the '60s, during the first wave of garage rock. You can also imagine them in present-day California, performing with Ty Segall and King Tuff, or hunkered down in Brooklyn, jamming with fellow kings of sloppy charisma Titus Andronicus and the Men. Were you to explain rock 'n' roll, in its most fundamental terms, to an alien or your grandparents, you could do worse than to play '180.'
Their wildcard is the keyboard player, Jeffrey Peter Mayhew, who gives the album a sort of insulation, or thickening, like adding flour to a gravy. He's most effective on the climactic 'Ruby Tuesday'-style '14' and 'Rattlesnake Highway,' where the organ recalls Vampire Weekend. Of course, rock bands can easily overdo it with keyboards, and on the intro to "All the Garden Birds," Mayhew comes off like a musician sitting in the wrong recording session. Worse is 'Johnny Bagga Donuts,' where unnecessary keys weaken the tune's overall bite.
Still, given the palpable urgency the group puts into this debut, these musical flaws seem more like growing pains than evidence of poor taste. More problematic are the lyrical dead-ends and diversions into dull babble that most songs take upon close listening. The Stones and WU LYF are complete packages, and until Palma Violets put some substance behind their hooks and exuberance and cool, they'll remain well short of becoming rock 'n' roll royalty. This is a pretty fun start, though.