“There are ways that friendships can deteriorate so much further than like, romantic relationships, because romantic relationships are something that we see as having a definitive end,” Oliver Kalb said in our interview with him about Bellows’ masterpiece of a new album. Fist & Palm chronicles the prolonged end of a friendship in vivid detail, and perhaps the most refreshing thing about it is that it places equal blame on both sides. The impeccably laid-out narrative threads itself in and out of some truly excellent pop songs and, where many “concept albums” often feel forced, everything here reads as organic and true.
It ends and begins in the same place, bookended by two epically sweeping tracks called “You Are A Palm Tree” and “From The Palms” that center the end of the story during a fight in a yard, and the rest of the tracks act as snapshots of the relationship’s gradual descent. The front half of the album trends towards songs that look at a romanticized version of the past with a suspicious eye — the celebratory “Thick Skin” sounds in awe at the radical potential of friendship, but its chorus revolves around the defeated refrain “I’ve grown so thick-skinned lately/ But I want to cry”; “Orange Juice” takes a drunken night of debauchery at late Brooklyn venue Palisades and turns it into a wearied warning of enabling someone else’s substance abuse: “End up running through a mess of bad behaviors/ I’m lashing out whenever I’m with you.”
“O Joy!” marks the turning point of the album, dragging us back to the endpoint for a moment — in a mumbled spoken word outro, Kalb poignantly reflects the power plays of the ensuing argument: “I compare how you fight me in silence/ And how I want a bit more than that from quiet” — before dragging us into what’s maybe my favorite run of songs all year, a devastating triptych of the friendship’s deepening resentment over time. “A Sordid Ending” is a pulverizing jammer set in the backseat of car, gazing up at the stars and realizing that personal problems can’t always excuse a friend’s destructive behavior; “Bully” is the lilting standout, a searing indictment of both parties: “Though you couldn’t be my friend all last year, I couldn’t be there for you either”; and “Beauty” ends in a powerful cacophony of glitchy noise that takes a deep breath and ends on: “I’m ashamed to have put you through this fight/ And I rage at what became my life/ That making something beautiful was not enough to raise you up out of this rut.”
Fist & Palm is an absolutely brutal listen for anything who has ever lost a friend, and who among us hasn’t? But it also fills me with an odd sense of hope, a recognition that in spite of all of us being selfish and irrational and cutting loose potentially vibrant relationships, there’s a way out of the darkness. It’s a monumentally accomplished record, and you should listen to it below and check out our Q&A.