Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Naima Bock Giant Palm

Sub Pop / Memorials Of Distinction
Sub Pop / Memorials Of Distinction

Naima Bock’s debut is a real gem — the kind of album that sneaks up on you, one that for some reason I can’t stop returning to. Giant Palm makes me feel like I’m floating on a cloud. It is preternaturally calm; it’s subtle and enveloping and moves in unhurried, erosive waves. It’s not the type of music that one would expect from a former member of Goat Girl — the anxious, political, idiosyncratic punk group that Bock spent six years in — but perhaps it’s the kind of music that one needs after saying everything that needs to be said. Bock started working on music of her own as a way to escape the sort of always-analytical music that being in a punk band entails. The songs invite an absence of thought: a way to slip in and zone out.

Though she was born in England, Bock spent her earliest years in Brazil before moving to London, where she took up with Goat Girl in her teens. Her music manages to be both balmy and pastoral, maybe because of this background. Her affinity for bossa nova and folk music of all different stripes shines through on Giant Palm. She has cited Michael Hurley, the Moldy Peaches, and George Harrison as influences, and her songs are imbued with an appreciation for history. “My stepfather listened to a lot of old folk stuff,” Bock explained in an interview. “So every song that I’d ever sing, I always made sure I could find the source for it, and go back as far as I can for all the different interpretations… The social history of it is amazing, this untold history of people that didn’t manage to write books but they managed to pass these songs down, and they just survived naturally through generations. It’s almost a miracle.” Though Giant Palm is home to only one reimagined folk song — the album closing rendition of the ’60s composition “O Morro (Feio Nao E Bonito)” — it all feels timeless in a nebulous way, songs that sound like they could be passed down for years to come.

Bock recorded Giant Palm with close collaborator Joel Burton in the studio of Speedy Wunderground’s Dan Carey. (Carey produced both of Goat Girl’s albums while Bock was in the band.) It’s funny to imagine such chill music being made in a space that has turned out some of the most frenetic, energetic music of the UK’s post-punk wave. But Giant Palm‘s recording process turned into something of a community. Because so many were floating around due to pandemic lockdowns, upwards of 30 musicians played on the album. It benefits from having so many people in and around it — it makes these solitary songs sound communal. And while the album feels shaggy and loose, Giant Palm has been laid down elegantly and precisely; its most striking moments are also its most composed — movements of swelling harmonies and horn trills and lifting atmosphere where the full surge of what Bock is doing with all of these slowly moving parts take hold.

From its first notes, Bock beckons the listener to transcend with her. Giant Palm’s lyrics often return to the idea of a slow-motion decline and a loneliness that cannot be stamped out, but the music itself sighs like the inevitable ticking of a clock. The opening track finds Bock removing herself from the equation: “Life’s giant palm lifts me to the sky/ And for a while I forget that I cannot fly/ So I float higher, high above it all.” Such extrication is exceedingly difficult in this day and age, but Giant Palm provides a space for it. Bock’s voice is simultaneously heavy and light, curling around words and lifting them up like sources of strength and power. It’s reflective music with few jagged edges. “They say time will heal all/ But I felt the darkness first,” she lilts on another track, “Toll.” “Knowing nothing will be felt but mold/ Some people seem so undisturbed.” Bock is not necessarily ignoring the world’s many problems, but embracing a kind of powerless over it. There is a weariness in these songs but it never feels like a burden, or rather that burden is something that can be conquered together.

Bock said she wrote a lot of these songs on long walks. For a few years, she participated in traveling the Camino de Santiago, a series of old pilgrim routes that are still being followed today. Giant Palm is the perfect soundtrack for wandering: It enhances the beauty of the world around you. Bock is plenty interested in what the natural world has to offer. In between the time she left her band and now, she started a gardening company and pursued a degree in archaeology. It’s no coincidence that both vocations have to do with digging down into the earth and examining what comes up. It’s something that Bock’s music manages to do as well — create a world that is loose and inviting and feels like it’s been around forever. Giant Palm is cinematic and spectral; it makes one contemplate things like energy flows and meditation and the long arc of history. It has served as a real source of comfort for me over these last few months, and maybe it will for you too.

Giant Palm is out 7/1 via Sub Pop/Memorials Of Distinction. Pre-order it here.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Burna Boy’s Love, Damini
• Guided By Voices’ Tremblers And Goggles By Rank
• Nick Zinner’s instrumental 41 Strings
• Moor Mother’s Jazz Codes
• Momma’s Household Name
• Fresh’s Raise Hell
• Camp Trash’s The Long Way, The Slow Way
• Carlos Truly’s Not Mine
• Fime’s Sweeter Memory
• Downfall’s Behind The Curtain
• Options’ Swimming Feeling
• Municipal Waste’s Electrified Brain
• UB40 Featuring Ali Campbell & Astro’s Unprecedented
• Paolo Nutini’s Last Night In The Bittersweet
• Medicine Singers’ self-titled
• Imagine Dragons’ Mercury — ACTS 1 & 2
• The Jack Antonoff-curated Minions: The Rise Of Gru soundtrack
• The Mary Onettes’ What I Feel In Some Places EP

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