The Breeders put on a clinic with Mountain Battles. Songs like “German Studies” and “Istanbul,” “Here No More” and “We're Gonna Rise,” taught solitary singers dimensionality through vocal harmony and interplay. But that Ohio-to-Chicago signal seemed a bit lost in transmission. Until Palmflower. Like the Sisters Deal, Palmflower's vocals-first approach conveys considerable charisma and charm. And though “I Write Myself Notes” shares the same gravity-defying propulsion as the Breeders' “Cannonball,” Palmflower cannot be relegated to the limits of alt-rock.
Palmflower resides where ambient and dream pop intersect. The music of Palmflower is all loose beauty – amorphous, atmospheric, ethereal. Beholding the wonder of Palmflower's gift is to re-train our eye permanently towards artistry. Before, we were content to look out the window; now, nothing less than the stained glass of Gothic cathedrals will do. Palmflower calls itself “future church music.” Indeed.
Palmflower uses all manner of affected guitar, organ and vocal to transform ordinary instruments into lush soundscapes. With “Buried Under,” and not unlike the Verve's A Storm in Heaven, Palmflower renders for us a cavernous space reverberating with echoing guitars, vocals and sound droplets (which gather into puddles for us to jump into or trip out on). Similarly, and despite a hypnotizing vocal lead, it's the descending background vocals of “Skeletons Can't Swim” that streak the night with color like trailing fireworks.
Palmflower's song-writing mastery is evident on “Newlywed Lovers,” which features a slow-rolling introduction ultimately cutting drums and adding bass to begin the song proper at :39. But it is the tension/release (1:05/1:19) of “Day After Dead”'s pre-chorus/chorus that reaches the high bar of “intuitive pop” Palmflower sets for itself. Few artists (save for maybe Atlas Sound or Wild Nothing) reach such dizzying heights.
And for those convinced Neil Young's “Like a Hurricane” is per se perfect, let's keep an open mind. Because Palmflower did it: They did the song justice, and may even be the preferred drug of choice for Neil Young junkies. The trick? Letting the lyrics shine through. Because as emotive a voice as Young's is, it is also pained, and there cannot be two focal points. There's only one eye of the hurricane, and it took Palmflower (with pulsing organ and minimalist guitar accent) to finally introduce metaphorically appropriate calm.
Perhaps Palmflower will continue adding layers a la Spiritualized. Or maybe they'll just keep charming us with their Breeders-esque vocal superiority. Regardless, it's the first “gospel pop” I've heard. And it is good.
*** The author of this review, Joe Cook, plays the daul for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8