As one might expect of a band whose stated goal is "playing rock music backwards," the music of Philadelphia's Palm often gets compared to a bad acid trip. The band's deconstructed rock songs are off-kilter experiments, to be sure. But while the sounds Palm conjures are undoubtedly bracing, they're never abrasive. They somehow manage to remain melodic and pleasing to the ears—and Palm has never sounded better than they do on Rock Island, their second LP.
To achieve this "backwards" rock music, Palm takes many of the form's traditional norms and recontextualizes them. Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt's highly modified guitars often do the work of a traditional rhythm section, with drummer Hugo Stanley and bassist Gerasimos Livitsanos' left-field work pushed to the fore. An example of the band's many unique flourishes is Kurt's guitar is modded to sound at times exactly like a steel drum, of all things—a move that sounds outlandish but one the band makes work in spades.
"Kasra started using an '80s Roland MIDI pickup on his guitar, which basically allows you to trigger samples on the guitar, making it a kind of keyboard, but one that still has that guitar sound," says Alpert over the phone from the tour's stop in Minneapolis. "It's cool to not be constricted to guitar sounds. It's really allowed us to open up our sound even further."
And the Palm sound is indeed very open. The irreverent arrangement of "Color Code" recalls the Dirty Projectors, as does the band's ability to imbue their songs with a soulfulness too often lacking in indie rock. The band flexes as though "Composite" is going to be a relatively straightforward Beach Boys exercise before morphing into something that sounds like the legendary band filtered through a Halloween funhouse—distorted and rearranged with a hint of unease or nefariousness on the periphery. The striking "Dog Milk" features the aforementioned steel drum sounds prominently at the song's outset, only to see those melodic tones crumble into chunky dissonance by the track's conclusion.
With so many unique ideas working out for the band, it's perhaps a surprise to learn that none of the band members had any formal musical training. But Alpert says it's one of the band's strengths.
"I guess for us it seems like it would be constricting to get a musical education and then try and make really original music," she says. "For a lot of people who are classically trained, I think it can be hard to break the rules they're taught, so I think, in a way, not going to school for music has helped us from square one. We just picked up our instruments and started experimenting with what kinds of sounds could come out of them."
SEE IT: Palm plays Bunk Bar, 1028 SE Water Ave., with Spirit of the Beehive, on Friday, March 2. 9:30 pm. $15. 21+. Get tickets here.