Palma Violets ‘180’ – Review

11 Mar

“Giving a sh*t is back in” says the guy in the promotional video for Palma Violets debut album. The absurdity of this initially made me laugh (has it ever been out?) and I laughed until I started to ponder. I mean a lot has been said for the death of guitar music, which is obviously ridiculous, but I think that what those critics actually mean is that guitar music played with passion is dead (well not dead, but certainly not in vogue). Look at the guitar groups that have been successful either critically or commercially in recent years and there has certainly been a preference for a kind of poncy, disconnected shoe-staring. Bands like Alt J, Two Door Cinema Club, Everything Everything and Mumford and Sons for example seem to be blandly nonchalant in front of an audience. Whether these bands actually care or not is irrelevant – they don’t look like they ‘give a shit.’ Palma Violets do.

And appearances are everything in rock n roll. Don’t roll your eyes – it’s true! Call me shallow but I like my bands to look like they are sweating blood on stage. And I like them to look good in the process. Palma Violets tick those boxes. The irony being of course that while they put in 110 percent into every show, they make it look so effortless. Natural. Genuine. Mostly, passion and spirit are two qualities that shine through when you go to a Palma Violets gig and ultimately that is what makes them so wonderful. It’s what elevates them from being yet another young indie rock band who sound a bit like The Libertines. They have spirit. A spirit I’ve never witnessed in a new band before (I really can’t overstate what a fantastic live band they are). They shout, they bounce, they feel the music and they make the audience feel it in a remarkable way. ‘180’ is a collection of songs recorded by a band at a very primal, very youthful zenith.

But that made the prospect of this debut album even more worrying. How can you capture that live energy on tape? Most great live bands have struggled in the past and Palma Violets are no different. They made a mistake in chosing Steve Mackey of Pulp as producer. To date his most prominent production work was mucking up the Long Blondes debut, and he hasn’t done a great job here either to be honest. He’s added varying degrees of harsh distortion (unnecessarily) to some tracks but not others, making this a sonically inconsistent and messy record. He’s also slowed down the tempo to some key live songs – understandable perhaps (common industry practice), but when a group’s energy is the main thing driving a song like ‘Tom the Drum’ it seems ludicrous to put the breaks on it. It doesn’t ruin the tune at all but it does dilute some of my pleasure. The album is also poorly mixed; backing vocals are barely audible, the keyboard zooms in and out of focus and the drums don’t have enough wallop for my liking. Listen to Japandroids last album to see how this album should have sounded.

But putting those issues aside, this is a genuinely vibrant, inspirational and heart warming album. The songs stand head and shoulders above most of what I’ve heard by nearest rivals Peace and Haim. ‘Best of Friends’ is an anthem that revolves around a simple but brilliant hook; ‘I waaaana be your beeesssst friend, I don’t want you to be my girlll’. Genius. ‘Rattlesnake Highway’ bombs along under a sea of acidic fuzz; here the passion I was talking about earlier is practically palpable. ‘Chicken Dippers’ follows hot on this song’s heels and it’s yet another stand out. Their sound is simple and urgent – stabs of organ, minimal guitar work, basslines you can’t hear but feel and pounding drums. The group’s two big idols are Joe Strummer and Nick Cave, and in crude terms ‘180’ sounds like a cross between two (musically speaking at least).

Lyricly there isn’t much depth here, as the band work best in short, sharp soundbites; chants that resonate around sweaty clubs but don’t particularly encourage thought or analysis. Mostly they are trite and unimpressive (14 consists solely of the line ‘oh 14, 14 take me home’) but occasionally the band hit upon a pearl of wisdom or a hook that sticks in your head (‘Unlike you, I have nothing going on for me, cos I love you’). Often they throw words together to see what sticks, an attitude they have with their song structures as well. Some songs make do with two verses threaded together without a chorus, while other songs rely on on only a chorus to get by. It works brilliantly on ‘Rattlesnake Highway’ and ‘Chicken Dippers’ but less effectively on ‘We Found Love’ and ‘Step Up For the Cool Cats’, two massive pop songs that would have benefited from a more traditional rendering. Instead these songs sound too disjointed and underdeveloped, which would be a shame if their impulsive instinct wasn’t their biggest charm. ‘180’ is a sloppy and at times ill-conceived record but this makes the group all the more loveable. They don’t overthink things.

I’m reminded of The Horrors right at the start of their life-span. They were also a band with bags of talent and passion, who were great live and sometimes dismissed as a novelty. Palma Violets also have loads of talent and the potential to develop into an extraordinary group. ‘180’ captures some of this early, raw magic and it’s a shame that they are going to get loads of flack from certain sections of the media. I can already hear the cries that ‘it sounds like a demo’ and ‘they should have waited a year’ which is missing the point entirely. Palma Violets could be to teenagers in 2013 what The Ramones were to teenagers in 1977 or Oasis were to teenagers in 1994. It’s not their fault that in this internet age every jaded, cynical critic has easy access to a blog. Yes mate, you’ve heard every Gun Club B-side and seen every ‘hot new thing’ before they were picked up by NME, so what, fine, there’s nothing for you here, move on. But for those of us still moved by the ferocity of rock n roll and the excitement of young talent, ‘180’ is a very moving record indeed. Warts and all, this is an astonishing debut. Long live ‘giving a sh*t’.



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