Album Review: Palma Violets – 180
2013 is still young, and so step forth Palma Violets, this year’s model for British guitar music’s “Great White Hopes”. Not that guitar music ever needed saving, really, but hey ho, we do like to get excited. And Palma Violets certainly offer up a rousing package, already renowned for rackety live shows, a sense of fiery optimism, and of course, their debut single ‘Best Of Friends’. NME’s Song of 2012 still stands as a delightful hoot: led by Chilli Jesson’s howling earnestness and some smashing garage riffs stirred with a lo-fi, psychedelic organ, it made for a promising taster for the group’s debut album.
Inevitably, that unavoidable cloud of hype hangs heavy over 180. As if to capitalise on a supposed peak in their momentum – which, to be fair, isn’t always a bad thing – it sounds as though Palma Violets have thrown their debut into the world rather hurriedly. 180 hangs together like another of those twelve-track rattle-’em-off debuts which all bright young things seem to open with, usually with a sneer of “this is our sound, deal with it.” So, what we have are twelve tunes which mostly run with the template hinted at with ‘Best Of Friends’: scratchy, amp-popping waves of Clash-indebted rock’n’roll, buoyed by some smoky organ patterns from keyboardist Peter Mayhew. 180 is an immediate, direct record, which admittedly does sound like the kind of EP you’d buy after a friend’s performance in your local bar. Such raw appeal is exactly the point with these guys, but through it all, one does sometimes wonder what it is that elevates them beyond the standards set elsewhere.
Well, give them their dues: the members of Palma Violets have buckets and buckets of enthusiasm. All four invest their thrashes with such vigour that no matter how rudimentary and ramshackle these numbers are, there’s a visceral thrill to be gleaned from hearing them in all their rags and tatters. ’14’ isn’t going to change anybody’s life, but there’s something indefinably sweet about its repeated refrain of “take me home”, whereas ‘All The Garden Birds’ glows with light, singalong melodies and a towering central hook.
Alongside such moments of joy, though, their straightforward scrappiness does occasionally get the better of the group, to the point where some songs travel beyond obviousness to sounding simply throwaway. Palma Violets‘ simplicity may be integral, but there’s something tiresome about the likes of ‘Rattlesnake Highway’ and ‘Tom The Drum’: for all their rough-and-tumble, they can’t help but sound like hastily-cobbled paint-by-numbers riffers. ‘Johnny Bagga’ Donuts’ fares a little better, packing in a 60s-indebted swirl of noise, but in all honesty, the song itself isn’t as memorable as its rather crazed title.
Instead, 180 shines best when fuelled by the heart rather than the hands. ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ is the best thing on offer here, opening with a striking ascension from that swoonsome organ, before it flowers into a charming jangle that revolves around a stupidly catchy chorus. This track, along with ‘Best Of Friends’ and ’14’, prove that Palma Violets are at their strongest when they fill their sounds with a joyous emotional clout. Rather than attempting to embody old-school swagger, they’re much more proficient at the life-affirming squalls of noise and passion that those singles dispense with such verve.
The question that remains is where can they go from here? You never know, they could always surprise us with a follow-up that completely reinvents them as genre-mashing, convention-trashing heroes. However, on the evidence of 180, I can’t help but worry that in a year or two, they’ll be trampled in this fickle industry’s search for the next big thing. Palma Violets write perfectly catchy hooks, and know how to get people moving, but is their sound really built to last? Only time will tell, I suppose.
“Over and over and over again, I’m going again.”