Palm’s live performances are revered for their uncanny synchronicity; one gets the sense that, on psychic levels unseen, the members share an intuition unexplained by logic. But as the Philly-based band has grown up and moved on from the sweaty basement shows and self-booked tours of their formative years, the costs of maintaining such intense symbiosis started to build. “I used to think of Palm as an organism, a single coherent system, and at a younger point in our lives, that seemed like the ideal way to be a band,” Eve Alpert reflects. “I’m realizing now that it’s unrealistic, that for this band to grow we had to tend to ourselves as individuals – little pieces – who create the whole.”
To confuse parts for the whole is inevitable with Palm. Drummer Hugo Stanley, bassist Gerasimos Livitsanos and guitarists/vocalists/high school sweethearts Alpert and Kasra Kurt started making music together as teenagers, and spent much of their twenties in the kind of proximity unusual for adults, outside of touring bands and the International Space Station. For a number of years the band consumed the lives of its members to a point of exhaustion: “To be honest I think we got a little burnt out. There were times where it wasn’t clear if we’d make another record,” says Alpert. It was only after multiple freak injuries followed by a pandemic, forced a pause - from touring but also from writing, rehearsing, even seeing each other- that the four were able to regroup and see a way forward again.
On their latest effort, Nicks and Grazes, Palm embrace discordance to dazzling effect. “We wanted to reconcile two potentially opposing aesthetics,” Kurt says. “To capture the spontaneous, free energy of our live shows while integrating elements from the traditionally gridded palette of electronic music.” In order to avoid what Kurt refers to as “Palm goes electro,” the musicians spent years educating themselves on the ins and outs of production by learning Ableton while also experimenting with “the percussive, textural, and gestural potential” of their instruments. To this end, the band continued the age-old tradition of instrument-preparation, augmenting guitars with drumsticks, metal rods and, at the suggestion of Charles Bullen (This Heat, Lifetones), coiling rubber-coated gardening wire around the strings. The unruliness of the prepared guitar on songs like “Mirror Mirror” and “Eager Copy” contrasts with the steadfast reproducibility of the album’s electronic elements.
While Palm cite Japanese pop music, dub, and footwork as influences on this album’s sonic palette, they found themselves returning time and again to the artists who inspired them to start the group over a decade ago. “When we were first starting out as a band, we bonded over an appreciation of heavy, aggressive, noisy music,” Alpert reflects. “We wrote parts that were just straight-up metal.” Kurt adds, “I found myself rediscovering and re–falling in love with the visceral, jagged quality of guitars in the music of Glenn Branca, The Fall, Beefheart, and Sonic Youth, all important early Palm influences.” Returning to the fundamentals gave Palm a strong foundation upon which they could experiment freely, resulting in their most ambitious and revelatory album to date.
“Music isn’t about things. It is things,” Richard Powers wrote in his novel Orfeo. While making Nicks and Grazes, Kurt found himself returning to this quote as a guiding philosophy as Palm spent days and months on end working out songs together in their practice space. Though a single narrative remains elusive, Stanley points out echoes of the members’ individual and collective experiences in the use of samples. Snippets of conversation on tour in Spain, the blare of a Philly high school marching band’s early morning practice, and the refracted reverberations of Palm’s friend Paco Cathcart performing as The Cradle are just a few examples of daily sonic flotsam the band incorporated with instrumentation to create a new communal experience. The album’s titular track is a prime example; Anderegg combined the band’s disparate field recordings into a diaristic kaleidoscope of sound, as much a collection of memories as it is its own composition. “We’re constantly grabbing at sounds that move us,” Stanley says. “In a sense, the record is cobbled together from these pieces of our lives.”