KNOTTY AND ANGULAR INDIE ROCK FROM PHILADELPHIA WITH NEW CARPARK LP 'ROCK ISLAND'
$15 advance / $15 day of show
Palm plays rock music backwards. Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt’s guitars occupy themselves most often with the pace-keeping work typical of a rhythm section. Meanwhile, Gerasimos Livitsanos’ bass and Hugo Stanley’s drums perform commentary and reportage from their deeply embedded positions at the front. The band is firmly attached to the physicality of rock, but not as much its tone; their instruments tend to sound like any number of things at any given time.
None of the members of Palm are formally trained on their instruments. The band formed in 2011 at college in Upstate New York, when high school friends Eve and Kasra met Gerasimos and Hugo. In those early days, the band was just beginning to forge its collective musical identity through experiments in recording and performing live.
Their first album, Trading Basics (2015), was written in Hudson, NY, a riverside outpost where the group could clarify its intentions outside the direct influence of nearby cultural capitals. That year, the members of Palm relocated to Philadelphia, where they continue to live only a few blocks apart from one another. This proximity has facilitated a level of collaboration necessary for a sound so slippery to remain in the firm grasp of its players.
On 2017’s Shadow Expert EP, they made use of the steady hand granted by a tireless touring schedule, cutting their songs to efficiencies of pop confection without sacrificing the avant-adventurism at the center. The effort was met with praise from such outlets as Pitchfork, Stereogum, Spin, and Tiny Mix Tapes, who likened the sound variously to Stereolab, Slint, Sonic Youth and Broadcast. With Rock Island (2018), Palm excuses the company of these myriad influences with a sly brush of a hand, ushering the listener into a new domain, thrillingly strange for all its familiarity.
If it were up to fellow indie rock musicians, *Pleasure Suck would be one of the most hyped albums of 2017. But the Spirit of the Beehive *exist to confound. Their new LP elevates purity of vision over clarity from a band whose desire to be easily understood is far down on their list of priorities. The Bandcamp genre tags on their self-titled 2014 debut said it best: “benzos,” “klonopin,” “poppers,” “weed,” “weird beer,” “whiskey,” and “xanax.” While the Spirit of the Beehive’s earliest work could pass for shoegaze, it was defined by an unusually squalorous ambience, fueled by cheap highs and bad vibes. This is one of the few things that has remained constant about the band. “I just ate three grams of magic mushrooms,” a voice mutters halfway through “Future Looks Bright (It’s Blinding),” the only time the Spirit of the Beehive are ever direct about anything on Pleasure Suck.
The band simply tags itself as “alternative” this time out, a nebulous term that’s actually an accurate way to describe TSOTB’s counterintuitive lo-fi songcraft. Think Elephant 6by way of Ween, whimsical and scatalogical, held together by Scotch tape and Scotchgard. “I start my walk, I step in shit,” Zack Schwartz sings on the album’s first lyric, setting in motion a kaleidoscope of only shades of yellow, orange, and brown.
When the Spirit of the Beehive lose focus, they veer into ugliness for its own sake, and the effect is oddly alluring. But when they let some light in and it hits just right, Pleasure Suck emanates an autumnal, psych-folk warmth. The brilliant single “Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)” fashions a memorable chorus (“You don't need an education...you don't need to go to college”) by linking two bands who once traded in similarly feral bursts of noise. At points, Pleasure Suck recalls the urban-paganism of Animal Collective before Sung Tongs, though it’s the misanthropy of later Pink Floyd that becomes an unexpected through line.
“Future Looks Bright (It’s Blinding)” and “Ricky (Caught Me Tryin’)” are lovely songs about how ambition can make you look ugly: “Just tell us where to sign/Maybe the money will save us all,” Schwartz sings. Otherwise, it’s hard to identify the band’s primary concerns. “Pianos, Heavy Instrument” and “Snow on the Moon” are upfront about their inscrutability, though Schwartz does shrug at roadkill (“check the windshield/could be human/could be rodent”), police raids, “sports talk shows and a seasonal hellhole,” and a headspace that could double for the dingiest basement apartment in Kensington.
“Pleasure sucks the life out of everyone,” goes the album’s opening track. It serves as TSOTB’s thesis statement, a cynicism that can certainly have its own narcotic effect. It’s also their songwriting principle, as every potential moment of instant gratification is defaced by pitch warping, reverb, and distortion. Spend enough time scraping away the caked-on resin, though, and the asymmetrical melodies that typified TSOTB’s earlier work emerge. And so we arrive at the familiar, pleasurable debate with zonked-out, lo-fi pop tinkerers: Are the Spirit of the Beehive self-saboteurs blessed and cursed with too many ideas or is this approach just a cop out for a *lack *of ideas? Either way, Pleasure Suck is an equally compelling and impenetrable album most bands are either too square, too scared, or too savvy to make themselves. IAN COHEN, PITCHFORK