, March 15th, 2011 16:49
Seeking to go beyond the standard raincoat post-punk that this London group disposed with in a fire sale last year, Until Spring opens with a noble attempt at a bold gesture, referencing Vladimir Nabakov's Pale Fire, a novel in the form of an annotated poem. This excerpt from the prologue suggests Wild Palms are teasing their poetry from snatches of Nabakov's work, a paean to the extraordinary experience of artistic discovery framed within musings on the nature of mundanity: "And then the gradual and dual blue / And in the morning, diamonds of frost / express amazement". Big ignorant things full of miracles, reflective surfaces and shallow wonder, the songs are studded with asinine allusions to an assortment of pretty stuff, like moons and lighthouses and lakes and other existential objects of affection, with clues to their post-punk background buffeted on the side at an awkward angle. Ironically, the poem Wild Palms revere describes how overbearing brightness begets neutrality and subsequently a certain dullness, while with nuance comes glittering epiphany. From Joy Division to MBV to Radiohead, Pale Fire could be the master text for any band who have ever matched prettiness with banality, imperfection and abrasion, and in the process yielded an ever more truthful version of beauty. It's a trick Wild Palms would do well to consider in the future.
Curiously, it's uninspiring Mancunians Delphic who repeatedly come to mind here. Like Until Spring, Delphic's marginally agreeable debut worships at the altar of pleasant moderation and gorgeous gaseousness, evoking images of manicured lawns, clear waters, and soft breezes. And Acolyte's spin on Orbital's Koh Phangan trustafarian side syncs with Wild Palms ever-so-slightly tropical flavour, while the theme of regeneration running through Until Spring also peppers Delphic's material. There's a sense of deflation throughout: when once promising guitarist Darrel Hawkins is demoted to the role of human two-note synthesizer, and No Wave-loving drummer James Parish keeps time like a sad toy monkey, One Night Only are a realistic comparison. The toxically average Temper Trap are invoked in Lou Hill's ethereal delivery. It's a regrettable outcome for an essentially accomplished band, who've at least attempted to migrate from tired 80s touchstones while the imperturbable likes of Chapel Club are happy to laze about on the same sub-Interpol bed of chaff. Despite this, however, ultimately Until Spring says very little about anything much.
Thankfully, a band lost for words can still whistle a pretty tune. An attractive album, the production – handled by one Gareth Jones - is reminiscent of the vacuolated mise-en-scene of a William Eggleston sky photograph; naturalistic, tidy, colourful, prosaic, serene and essentially benign vistas, wherein life is flat and the air is clean. If anything it's their classy looks that suggest the infinitesimal, nay amoebic, nay molecular possibility that one day Wild Palms could be a great band. Read between the lines of the more scornful reviews for Until Spring and you'll detect a slightly endeared listener with a nagging interest in what Wild Palms future's might hold if they fulfill the tiny speck of promise glimpsed on the like of 'Delight in Temptation' and 'LHC'. In any case, for the time being dreck like 'Swirling Shards' and 'Carnation' will find a following amongst Bloc Party fans.
A tad hypocritically, in 2009 Lou Hill denounced the shadowed medium they inhabited at the time, decreeing: "Nihilism is a cop out, you have to take action". Unfortunately, Until Spring is patently not where the action is. One Little Indian have signed Wild Palms for two more albums, so they have a couple more chances to come up with something more enduring, while a handful more pop hooks might even see them shipshape for daytime airplay. But if art is to come from their ambition, their only plan-of-action should be utter unflinching bloody-mindedness. Only time will tell. Let's call this a practice run shall we?