In describing Palm to the uninitiated, it’s sometimes necessary to clarify the meaning of the group’s name by raising one’s hand in the universal symbol of greeting and goodwill. The act of corroborating the aural with the gestural occurs everywhere in their work. On their latest EP, Shadow Expert, the syntax of popular music is regarded suspiciously and often subjected to revisions or reversals. Without formal training in their instruments, the players are left to determine their own musical language.
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 seem to perform commentary and reportage from deeply embedded positions at the front. Their contributions remain necessary to the composition, generating the kind of friction that other motion can be charted against: the grinding of teeth, the turning of an engine.
The record begins with the skittering appeals of one guitar to another, hard-panned left and right. They produce a groove, stop on a dime, and begin a series of nimble paces that might suggest the artful recovery from a skipped step. Here and elsewhere, the guitars confer and conspire with each other, finishing phrases and figuring it out. There is a faint delay to be heard in their communication, perhaps equivalent to that which exists between an object and its shadow, broken across several surfaces.
On the vocal track, Alpert and Kurt trade the barbs and bristles of a familiar argument and share the blissful cries of discovery. The “How could I forgive that? / How could I forget that?” refrain of “Two Toes” recalls the capricious turns of the gut in moments of grievance and doubt. These sonic and thematic dissonances are sustained, rather than resolved. This music draws the thought as it bounces around the head, draws the conversation as it circulates the room. Its most important questions are never answered but always rephrased.
On 2015’s Trading Basics, Palm’s experiments were more alchemical, more preoccupied with the impossible. Much of that music was submerged in some viscous and delicious substance, which often seemed to burn and bubble over. Two years and several tours of the United States later, the group sounds more limber, more acclimated to the press of events. At seventeen minutes in duration, these six songs are efficiencies of form, cutting quickly and decisively among scenes of bodies, systems, and intrigue.