Basement shows aren’t always revelatory; they’re usually sweaty and musty and fun, but not necessarily transformative. There are plenty of unconventional venues in Brooklyn that boast weird and wonderful lineups every night of the week, but sometimes the right combination of musicians and the right setting can change your perceptions of a genre, or a scene, and make you reevaluate the kind of music you invest yourself in. The first time I saw Palm was one of those experiences. Last winter, I begrudgingly decided to go to a show in the basement of a not-so-legal bar space in Brooklyn on a weeknight with a group of people that I didn’t know all too well. Palm opened for Atlanta’s Red Sea, a band that recently signed to Bayonet Records who I had learned about by way of their labelmates and fellow Band To Watch Warehouse. It shouldn’t have surprised me, then, that Palm’s performance was a no-holds-barred interpretive exercise; watching their set was challenging in the same way that reading a long, revered novel is challenging. Throughout their set, I would choose one of the four musicians, an instrument, and follow their particular stream of sound through to the end, watching them communicate a tempo swell and change to one another with sly passing glances. Palm is a live band, and though you don’t need to see them to believe in their music, it certainly helps.
Eve Alpert and Kasra Kurt met as high school students in London and made their musical debut together in a battle of the bands competition. From there, the two decided to attend Bard College in New York’s Hudson River Valley, a small liberal arts school that’s responsible for more than a few notable projects. It has produced bands from the Epoch collective like Eskimeaux, Bellows, and Told Slant, and more recently Jawbreaker Reunion, PWR BTTM, Palberta, and O-Face. Bard is less than two hours outside of New York City, giving bands an easy entryway into the somewhat-local urban scene. Alpert, who grew up in and around New York but moved to London as a 13-year-old, decided to move back to the East Coast in order to pursue a degree in photography, and Kurt (who grew up in the U.K.) chose the school for its history program. He and Alpert formed Palm (as in the hand, not the tree) in 2012 when they enlisted Hugo Stanley (of Brooklyn’s Big Neck Police) to be their drummer. After playing several shows in and around their college, Alpert acknowledged that having a bassist would give the project more longevity, and Kurt’s roommate at the time Gerasimos (Gerry) Livitsanos came into the fold. Kurt and Alpert ran Bard’s small semi-outdoor venue, Smog, and got tangentially involved with the New York music scene by booking shows and inadvertently building a touring network.
None of the members of Palm are trained musicians. They might have endured a smattering of lessons here and there, but the fact that none of them could be considered straight-up virtuosos is surprising. Their debut album, Trading Basics, will be released by Inflated Records and Exploding In Sound this coming fall, and was recorded and produced in South Brooklyn by the engineer and composer Eli Crews, who’s worked with tUnE-yArDs, Deerhoof, Erase Erata, and the Julie Ruin, among others. Trading Basics is an unrelenting, complicated assortment of songs that are near-impossible to listen to while multitasking. That being said, the songs on Trading Basics aren’t chaotic, but rather multi-tiered, ordered equations arranged through inventive improvisation. Palm’s song-structures are like fractals; an unending series of intricate patterns that, upon first glance, look like spontaneous and abstract renderings.
But as Alpert pointed out, Palm’s mathy sound wasn’t developed just for the sake of seeming complicated, or proving their musical prowess. “We aren’t interested in making overly complicated music for the sake of itself. Every sound has to serve some sort of purpose,” she said. The record’s first single “Crank” screeches and swerves in and out of control before Alpert’s voice welds its erratic scaffolding together. Tension builds and drops-off at the lyrical apex: “If we can’t get home for supper, then we might just have to…” Palm was originally conceived as an instrumental project, something that one could easily fit into the aesthetic of Baltimore’s Horse Lords, but their choice to invest time in vocal arrangements was an astute one, because both Alpert and Kurt have extraordinary voices. Their individual cadences can be likened to inventive forebears — Alpert recalls Broadcast’s Trish Keenan, and Kurt could be a stand-in for Noah Lennox when his mic effects are turned to the appropriate setting. “Since none of us are trained in our instruments, we sort of developed our skills together at a similar pace. Adding vocals was this extra step that felt really overwhelming at first. We generally left it to the last stage in the recording process,” Alpert said. “Vocals and lyrics have become less of an evil thing, and more of a cool tool now.”
Palm have called the Hudson River Valley home since graduating from Bard, and though they have an established community of fans and collaborators in New York City, living in a low-stress environment is paramount to the band’s dynamic. Calling an inexpensive, quiet environment home gave Palm time and space to figure out their sound and write their debut album, and though they have established a presence in New York City, living there has never been a dream for them. Transplanting to an expensive city with an already established hierarchy of show culture wasn’t appealing. Instead, Palm decided to move to Philadelphia at the beginning of August, a city with an explosive DIY rock scene with room to expand its family tree. Palm will play shows on their upcoming tour with fellow fitful experimentalists Warehouse, Krill, Cloud Becomes Your Hand, and Banned Books starting later this month. Check out those dates, Trading Basics’ tracklist, and listen to the album’s debut single “Crank” below.
Trading Basics tracklist:
01 “Time Times Three”
04 “Doggy Doctor”
05 “You Are What Eats You”
06 “Egg In A Frame”
07 “Child Actor”
08 “Second Ward”
09 “Drawn Straws”
09/15 Philadelphia, PA @ Nico Nico Mansion w/ Warehouse, Cloud Becomes Your Hand, & Banned Books
09/17 Brooklyn, NY @ Palisades w/ Warehouse, Cloud Becomes Your Hand & Mega Bog
09/18 Boston, MA @ Cuisine en Locale w/ Krill, Pile, Warehouse
09/19 Greenfield, MA @ John Doe Jr. Books and Records w/ Warehouse
09/20 Burlington, VT @ Burlington City Arts w/ CE Schneider Topical, Hartley C White & Warehouse
09/21 Montreal, Canada @ Poisson Noir w/ Dories, Notta Comet & Warehouse
09/22 Ottawa, Canada @ Pressed w/ Grime Kings & Warehouse
Trading Basics is out 11/6 via Inflated Records & Exploding In Sound. Preorder it here.