Palma Violets lead vocalist Sam Fryer sings: "I've got a brand new song, it's gonna be a number one," on the final track "14". It's strange mentioning the final track first; maybe this is a hidden meaning, a secret agenda to what I believe to be the end, the final straw, the deciding factor to where my allegiances lay on British rock music. I'm using "14" as an example because believe it or not, it's actually difficult to tell whether Fryer is trolling us. Is this one big joke that only NME / Palma Violets and 22 year olds understand? Could this be a rock cover-up on a grand scale? Are Palma Violets really awful songwriters? Does 180 reveal why so much effort has been given into praising this band from all over the British magazine and website front? Let's find out.
The opening track "Best of Friends" has to go down as British rock's lifeline in a music world dominated by an electronic influence and American artists. It's hard to 'make it big', as the post-90s artists say it. Palma Violets have rather unfortunately been placed on a pedestal by the NME for putting too much pressure on them. They did this with Jake Bugg and in my opinion; he was one of the worst routes NME have gone down in years. What they've actually done is take out the natural growth of a band. Is this good? I'm not so sure. For pop artists, a little bit of plugging and promotion does the world of good. It's a little different when you actually have some musical credibility. Being the pre-release single, it's unsurprising that it finds its way onto 180. Even now after listening to 180 many times, "Best of Friends" is the clear standout track. The lead guitar on the left side is the best riff in British rock music since... It's been so long I can't even remember the last time a straight up indie rock band from Britian has impressed me.
We have so much shit music these days that I thankfully forget. Two Door Cinema Club, The Vaccines, Beady Eye... Is this really the best British rock has to offer? 2012 really was a diabolical year for British rock music, no wonder The Stone Roses, Suede and Pulp are getting back together. Palma Violets are a little bit different to these artists. With their debut album 180, Palma Violets have taken on American influences. They're not afraid to combine their influences, like all artists. There's a mix between psychedelic rock, garage rock and indie rock. "Step Up For the Cool Cats" being the track that comes to mind when thinking about these three genres of music. Palma Violets have used organs in their music, as distorted as they are, they're still using an unusual instrument in a guitar / electronic dominated genre. Like The Doors, like The Stooges and like The Vaccines, Palma Violets create a well-produced sound by following their instincts. "All The Garden Birds" displays the first sign of weakness. It's not quite spruce enough, it's lacking features and it starts and ends badly. The following track "Rattlesnake Highway" sounds like a shouting match and a competition between Fryer and bassist Chilli Jesson (yes, that's really his name) to see who can sound the clearest under immense distortion. The structure isn't standard, however the chord progressions are very punk-esque and simplistic. Will Doyle's percussion become the key feature in a severely messy track; it's all over the place structurally. And that goes for "Chicken Dippers" too. What sounds like industrial soundscapes is actually something along the lines of Fryer banging on a window and having the producer add tons of reverb to make it sound experimental. This track, like "All the Garden Birds", fails to impress me. The progressions are better, and the psychedelic influences are far stronger than on any track. Again, the organ setting on Pete Mayhew's keyboard rings out. It's just a little flat to hear the keyboard organ instead of the real thing, plus it's been drenched in effects.
"Last of The Summer Wine" is Palma Violets best opening to a track so far. One minute of keyboards and atmosphere aligns the track for the punk rhythms and structure that comes next. Another simplistic three chord progression enters, with Fryer's deep vocal that sounds just like The Vaccines Justin Young. Fryer never quite sits as a singer-songwriter, his lyrics are neat but lacking the feel that Young would give for The Vaccines. Palma Violets are very much a laddish band for FIFA soundtracks and masculine parties. The Vaccines focus on lovey-dovey break-up tracks, and Palma Violets focus on a needless topic. "Tom the Drum" emphasises this claim. It sounds remarkably like a Rolling Stones riff, with Julian Casablanca’s / Brandon Flowers vocals. The distortion has been heavily applied and comes across a little too gimmicky and in the past. The Peoples Temple have done this in USA and there are countless other 60s re-hash artists out there. This track is completely different to the original features and structures of opening track and pre-release single "Best of Friends".
It's disappointing to hear such simple music by a band with so much potential. Palma Violets need to focus on the now, rather than the past like they are with their influences. Granted, they're fusing genres and influences, but they never quite put the 'Palma Violets' on their music. Instead they become 'a band that sounds like,' "Johnny Bagga' Donuts" actually isn't the worst named track on the album, that accolade goes to "Chicken Dinners". People talk of the chemistry between the four Lambeth lads on stage; however this isn't evident on 180. Japandroids are a band that fuse intimate and energetic music live and on record; I don't think Palma Violets do. The structures are all over the place again, with keyboard riff's drum patterns and bass riff variations throughout. Now usually this is a good thing, but Palma Violets are doing it in such a way that the track becomes almost unlistenable. The standard song structures work for indie rock, it's not a genre for experimenting too left-field, and although this is in no way left-field, Palma Violets comes across as a post-punk reveal band lost in their sound.
Their American influence can be heard in "I Found Love". It starts off replicating a riff from one of those 90s American alternative rock bands that had a one hit wonder. The structure of this track also goes AWOL for a split minute, but ultimately the beginning verse and final few minutes show a stronger and positive side to 180. "Three Stars" also parades signs of positivity on the back half of 180. This is where Palma Violets sound like Iggy Pop with their foot firmly in the door of melodic proto-punk. "Three Stars" features the best riff on the album and also the clearest and most honest vocal by Fryer. The final eight minutes of "14" offer the same keyboard organ and guitar progressions as just about every Palma Violets compositions put together. The first half is weak and repetitive with pretty standard instrumentation that grows old fast, the back half is atrocious. Bringing us back to my confusion of irony: ""I've got a brand new song, it's gonna be a number one." Listening to 180 may either catapult Palma Violets to a wider audience in the UK and USA, but I don't think a worldwide audience will be as welcoming as the hype followers in the UK. This final five minutes of "14" is intended for a live purpose, it's a sing along track. They close 180 with one of those 'let's play a really fast outro' which I despise.
180 doesn't live up to expectation, but then we already knew it wouldn't. As an album, it's not bad, it's not the best of rock releases, but it's better than many UK based rock recordings that have come out in recent years. Palma Violets haven’t gone down the path of popularity and this is good, they've stayed away from the mainstream and intend to keep it that way with Rough Trade. They will be backed by fans, thousands of British fans. "Best of Friends" really is Palma Violets standout track and ultimately will be for the rest of their lives. It also happens to be one of the only tracks on 180 not to feature the keyboard organ riffs. The keyboard is an instrument many rock bands fail to master, and Palma Violets are no different. The riffs on this album work as a trigger, for the guitars, but the keyboard should not be used to steer a track and lay the paths. The Doors did this and it actually worked because The Doors had spunk and funk, Palma Violets are not from California. 180 has it's positive moments, "Step Up For The Cool Cats", "I Found Love", "Best of Friends" and "Three Stars" standout as the better tracks. They do the indie rock / garage rock thing well, but The Cribs have done this and done it better for the past decade.