When Isis’ rolling post-metal behemoth came to a halt they left a hole that has never really been filled. So when the news filtered through that three of Isis’ main players (Jeff Caxide, Aaron Harris and Bryant Clifford Meyer to be precise) had teamed up with Deftones front man Chino Moreno, it’s fair to say that a fair number of people got a little hot under the collar.
The idea of what this collaboration might bring forth is almost more exciting than what Palms could ever hope to actually produce. Strip away expectation however and pretend, just for a moment that Palms is a new band that nobody’s ever heard of and the fact remains that this album is a really quite extraordinary piece of work.
In essence, Palms is a band that nobody’s ever heard of. Those hoping for a continuation of Isis or an infusion of Deftones magic will, undoubtedly, be disappointed initially. This is not an album that can be immediately digested and appreciated. It does not possess those skull crushing riffs that made the likes of Oceanic so magnificent and so daunting. Nor does Moreno really ever break into a vocal line that could be construed as aggressive. Palms is a rather sedate affair from beginning to end. It’s more post-rock than post-metal but thankfully doesn’t really manage to fall into any particular category. Bassist Caxide stopped short of suggesting that this new adventure is outright “pop music” but there’s certainly a great deal of outright melody in amongst these dense and quite wonderful constructions. Is post-pop a thing? It might be now.
Opening with Future Warrior, Palms set their stall out early. Starting life as an ambient guitar wash that ebbs and flows, building towards explosive peaks and releasing before any damage is done. Moreno’s heartfelt vocal sits above the emotive exposition, bobbing like a message in a bottle, lost in an ocean of tranquility. Not that Moreno sounds out of place at all; he drives the melody of the song from within, never relying on histrionics to evoke emotion. He lets the song as a whole do that, and plays his part in the collective. Structurally, it could be argued that Future Warrior is similar to Isis, expansive and all encompassing but musically it’s closer to The God Machine at their most introspective. There’s really no higher accolade.
Patience is most definitely required to make the most of this album, for these songs take their time to unfold and make sense. Antarctic Handshake could easily find its way onto a Balearic ambient compilation; such is its dreamlike quality. Moreno is enveloped in the haze, apparently close on nodding off. The wonderfully shimmering guitars of Patagonia appear to be going nowhere, but eventually they open out into a web of wonder and delicate beauty. The sparse guitar lines and fuzzed electronic pulses of Mission Sunset take on a peculiar cosmic feel before the song closes ranks and heads inwards. They explore inner and outer space, flipping between the two with scarcely noticeable segues. Moreno puts in his finest performance here, retrained one moment, forceful the next, and every line is seemingly loaded with heightened emotion. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest that this is the pinnacle of his career so far.
Shortwave Radio possesses an icy chill, primarily thanks to the pointed angular guitar work that sees Palms nod towards new-wave before heading into a tumultuous crescendo. Moreno chants as he stares into heaven, seemingly approaching some kind of rapture, becoming more and more unhinged as the song reaches its conclusion. It’s the only time Palms really let go and give way to their more visceral impulses, an island of mania in a sea of calm.
Palms then is so much more than the sum of its constituent parts. It won’t please everyone, particularly those with preconceived notions. But with any luck, this collaboration will continue beyond a single album, because on this evidence they’re really onto something.