It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Palma Violets. Four London lads who – like The Vaccines, Arctic Monkeys and The Libertines before them – have been anointed as the saviours of British guitar music.
It’s a familiar story. There they were earnestly going about their business when suddenly someone decided their (admittedly excellent) garage pop would be the next game-changer in British indie music.
With this in mind, it’s to Palma Violets’ credit that ‘180‘ doesn’t suffer from any sense of exaggerated self-importance.
They step up to the plate with the jangly clatter of first single ‘Best of Friends‘. It’s an anthemic call to arms and a fine way to kick off a debut album. “I wanna be your best friend, I don’t want you to be my girl,” bassist Chilli Jesson sings in a drawling voice, reminiscent of none other than Joe Strummer.
The throaty, Brit-slacker chops of Jesson and guitarist/singer Sam Fryer are key to ‘180’s success – both possess honest, hearty voices which make even the most elementary lyrics seem knowing and poignant. The swirling organ sounds of Pete Mayhew are also vital, offering another sonic angle for listeners to approach the record. In fact, without Mayhew’s parts, Palma Violets might have been just another garage band grafting away at your local pub.
Sonically speaking, there’s a live feel to ‘180’, and the straightforward production of Pulp man Steve Mackey takes nothing away from the tunes or the spirit. With guitars soaked in reverb and vocals gritty and distorted, the album plays like it was intended – scuzzed-up garage rock.
Importantly, the sounds are matched by the tunes. ‘Step Up For The Cool Cats‘ evolves from its ethereal organ intro into a hooky psych pop tune. ‘Chicken Dippers‘ is wonderfully schizophrenic, equal parts gloomy and uplifting. Further along, the ramshackle brilliance of ‘Rattlesnack Highway‘ recalls ‘I Fought The Law‘, while the baggy drums on ‘We Found Love‘ are an unexpected and rewarding detour.
The album’s closer, ‘14‘, (excluding secret track ‘Brand New Song‘) boasts the big, silly chorus, “I’m 14, I’m 14, take me home,”. Words alone, it could have been written by a 14-year-old, but this actually works in its favour. Musically, the track borders on lighter-waving, ballad territory, but the regrain, as well as being melodically memorable, is honest, a little bit silly and lets you know Palma Violets aren’t taking things too seriously.
If there’s one minor criticism that could be directed at ‘180’, it’s the peculiar familiarity that pervades the album. There’s little in Palma Violets’ sound that truly sets them apart from anyone else you will have heard in the last five years. Indeed, there are songs here that could easily fit on an album by Howler (‘Best of Friends’), The Vaccines (‘All The Garden Birds’) or The Horrors (‘Tom The Drum’). Of course, Palma Violets could do worse than invoke the clatter of Howler or gothic sensibilities of The Horrors, and when the tunes are as charming as they are here, it’s hard to criticise.
Born to a time and place where bands are hyped before they’ve had the chance to grow, where groups rise and fall in rapid succession, Palma Violets haven’t had it easy. And though ‘180’ won’t change your life or the British musical landscape, it’s one of the better indie rock debuts you’ll hear this year, that’s for sure.