Palma Violets - 180
Ah, Palma Violets. A rowdy menagerie of Lambeth youths well-versed in Nick Cave, The Clash and'80s alt. rock, so palpably-hyped at the moment, the mere mention of their name has the power to tear the very fabric of friendship circles asunder. Or, well, y'know, provoke heated debate. Their meteoric rise and subsequent contrary recoil hasn't been encountered since whichever band had this problem last year (Spector? Tribes?) – it happens almost annually, and fortunately for Palma Violets, it can result in them skyrocketing to megastardom; have a gander at The Libertines, Arctic Monkeys and more recently The Vaccines, who all defied a handsome share of backlash. Palma Violets' rise to glory has been, to put it mildly, turbulent: on one hand, they're garnering numerous accolades for a live show more explosive than mentos plus diet coke, becoming the 'saviours of guitar music' (the less said about that claim, the better), and generally being cheeky upstarts partly-spearheading this years new breed of nostalgirock. To top it off, they've saturated the media so thoroughly, they're in NME more regularly these days than the Gallaghers. No easy feat.
On the other hand, there are people that can't stand the chirpy upstarts, branding them a derivative covers band, turgid posh-wanker piffle or frankly, just not that good. People will always lash out at hyped bands, it's something of a ritual for many dour elitists to just snub whoever gets rammed down their throats. Whichever your stance on Chilli, Sam, Pete and Will, you'll have to come to terms with the fact they probably won't be going anywhere any time soon.
The fact of the matter is 180 is a record clearly made by four close friends that doesn't even broach hype or address exposure they've gained. The group have ignored the outside world, and buckled down to make the record. They've very much avoided headbutting with naysayers, but they don't really go out of their way to appease the fan-hordes either. It's all very introspective and a bit self-indulgent – they're playing music about themselves, for themselves. But what did you really expect from a band so young? They were never going to change the world. Yet.
Their live show, regardless of your opinion, is something to be reckoned with. Sweaty bouts of chunky indie-rock played ferociously by four lads with everything to prove is always going to be potent, even without that special connection between Sam and Chilli. The songs are made to be performed. 'Best Of Friends' is an anthemic set-closer, with perfectly chantable choruses and scraps of downtrodden spirit; the track feels hungover: full of hoarseness, slovenly guitar and the indescribable high-spirits. It's messy, and though surely misplaced, will no doubt be 'the song' for countless bromances. 'Last Of The Summer Wine' is a rock hymn which features vocals that pirouette through spiritual organ and tentative guitar riffs. Again, it's endlessly singalongable. 'Tom The Drum' is baggy, unkempt, raggedy rock that will forever be looped in Topman stores across the country; with slick shuffly beats and husky unfazed vocals, it's pouty, blue-steel kinds of cool.
But it's not all good news. 'Rattlesnake Highway' may as well have been strummed by Strummer himself – it's less hómage and more 'we can't think of anything else'. It's an alright effort, but then again, the main selling point is that it's watered down Clash. 'Stay Up For The Cool Cats' is a meandering swamp built on bricks of distortion and fuzz and the pretentiously ironic lingo your Dad wouldn't even use. Not to mention the garbled gibberish á la Cat from Red Dwarf and the sappy "You got me dancin' in the sun," repeated ad infinitum. The problem with the weaker songs isn't that they're inherently bad, it's just that they could've used a bit more time and love – though that may have been difficult with a deadline to meet while the buzzwave was still rideable. The lyrics can come across forced, and there are only small deviations from the formula between tracks.
As pointed out before, Palma Violets aren't going anywhere. They'll continue to stun their fans into oblivion with top notch live performances, and they'll continue to rile up their haters by simply existing. Things won't change much for them after the release of this album, and they'll stick around a good while yet. However, 180 will be a personal triumph for the band, something they'll treasure, but ultimately not something that is enormously accessible outside of their clique. The album doesn't reinvent anything – they never claimed it would, and it was never meant to – but it's a solid record that will keep them treading water until epiphany strikes and album number two reaches us. A+ for effort though.
Purchase and listen
"This buzz from the crowd was something that grew ever greater as the set progressed and was met wholeheartedly by the Violets, so much so that during an exuberant rendition of 'Rattlesnake Highway', it became apparent that the jugular veins of the two front men might burst at any minute." Max Sanderson reviews Palma Violets live. [read more]
A photo review of Palma Violets at the Boston Arms in London by Tom Griffiths. [read more]
"Through a V shaped crack, between two very tall people, in a heaving venue in the depths of Brixton, I saw Alabama Shakes play live for the first time." Lisa Jenkins watches the new Rough Trade poster children ply their trade [read more]