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Palm - "Shadow Expert" | Album Review

by Sean Deveney (@autonomousnloud)

With the advances in technology that allow us to listen to music wherever we go, it can be easy to take it for granted. It plays in the background while we eat at restaurants and comes through the speakers in the car as we are driving. In some ways, it seems to have been relegated to the back seat.

For listeners who experience music mainly as background noise, their conception of it likely involves aspects such as familiarity and predictability in terms of its composition. Its ability to fade gently into the background as one engages in another activity is important for this kind of listener. 

To these listeners, Palm’s Shadow Expert would not even sound like music, and that is why it is so exciting and valuable because it challenges the very form in which it exists. Whenever it seems as though a song by Palm is going to head in a certain direction, it slaps you in the face and invents a new direction. Any potential listeners looking for a sense of familiarity or predictability should be advised to look elsewhere as this is not an album for them. 

From the beginning with “Walkie Talkie,” the guitars lure in the listener before the drums jump out from behind the curtain and smack you for thinking this could be any sort of background music you could casually put on and eventually ignore. It becomes clear very quickly this album demands your full attention. Otherwise, there’s really no point in putting it on. 

Despite all this, the songs can still be catchy in their own bizarre way. The guitars in “Shadow Expert” sound as though they are lifted from a pop group from another galaxy. The drums somehow thunder along evenly with the guitars, and the bass follows in the same cryptic language. 

In songs like “Walnut” and “Trying,” there is a slightly more melodic feeling than was heard on the band’s full-length, Trading Basics. “Walnut” has an innocent, meandering riff that is soon surrounded by the other instruments. As they begin to take a different path, it lingers steadily and defiantly behind. At times, “Trying” feels unusually melodic for Palm. The riff in the beginning that is played with changing dynamics is briefly abandoned and altered as the song progresses and then later reappears with a new perspective. Having these two surprisingly somewhat melodic songs only adds to the unpredictability of Palm. 

Palm are not attempting to defy a certain formula in order to stand out from other bands; this is just something that has happened anyway as they have continued along their own path of making music that refuses to sit obediently in the shadows.