What is psychedelic music? The question has followed Palm since their beginnings in the college-town basements of Upstate New York, and has been thoroughly documented on albums like 2015’s Trading Basics and 2018’s Rock Island. With little formal knowledge of how to play their instruments when they first formed, the quartet—now based in Philadelphia, and made up of Eve Alpert, Kasra Kurt, Gerasimos Livitsanos, and Hugo Stanley—has followed the art-school impulse to question assumptions about how rock music is structured, building an alien system of its own. Showing a reluctance to be boxed into any single genre, the group has retained an openness to the possibilities of sound at its most elemental, using music technologies in strange and unorthodox ways that feel broadly in tune with the psychedelic moment of the 1960s. Palm tap into a cosmic excess bound up in the elaborate vocal effects and electronically treated guitars that are slathered across their albums, reclaiming psychedelic music as more than just a dorm-room backdrop for getting stoned. Their third studio album, Nicks and Grazes is dizzying and complex without losing sight of the progressive rigor that has guided the band since its beginnings.
To listen to Palm is to observe patterns in a foreign language, waiting for a logic to emerge. On Trading Basics, they seemed to consciously embrace a history of experimental tropes, grounding their music in a noise-rock lineage. Yet with each release, they’ve taken steps to replace this scaffolding with a new foundation of their own, with varying degrees of success. Recorded just two days after the release of Trading Basics, 2017’s Shadow Expert EP incorporated new studio techniques that built on the tight-knit feeling of the group, ping-ponging across stereophonic space as if to mimic dialogue and dialing in effect pedals with more precision than their earlier lo-fi efforts. But the endless changes and sustained hyperactivity made for a difficult listen, a feeling that would continue on their 2018 album Rock Island. Roughly four years later, Palm have finally developed the studio techniques and conscious sense of restraint needed to do justice to this adventurous spirit, creating an album that’s precise and exacting as it approaches new terrain.
Their organizing principles are as unconventional as ever. Babbling synths and wind chimes give way to controlled chaos on “Touch and Go,” as corkscrew guitars offset Livitsanos’ propulsive drumming. While they’ve long been invested in outlandish recording techniques, Palm now seem set on building out a studio sound that contributes to the forward motion of the project. In most cases, this means the addition of new electronic elements, like the metallic samples and synth pads deployed throughout “Touch and Go,” or the thumping synth bass on “Feathers.” The latter track is built entirely around the instrument, smoothed over with a soft counter-melody from Alpert before erupting with electrifying drums. Yet even as they approach something ostensibly similar to dance music, they can’t help but sound like a more realized version of themselves.