I was excited to review Palamino ever since I discovered their self-titled debut, subsequently purchasing it in January. Seemed like I couldn’t seem to stop playing it. I became more and more curious about the band, the music, and their hometown of Montclair, New Jersey.
In the shadow of America’s largest city exists a small but diverse scene, where Palamino has been playing together for three years. I was able to find out that Pete Clark does most of the songwriting, and very sensibly pan-fries his steak in chili-infused olive oil from Greece. He and Michelle Gilbert both play guitars and sing, although it’s usually Pete’s voice you hear on the album. Becca Biondi and Max McMahon ably make up the rhythm section, playing drums and bass, respectively. The band name is of course taken from an obscure movie reference, involving the music industry and taking place in New Jersey. I felt stupid for thinking about horses.
In the male-dominated rock band landscape, very few have more than a token female singer. It’s good to see more equality happening, but Palamino isn’t doing it just for a more attractive band photo. (In fact, I am unsure more than three even exist.) They are good friends – and only friends – who have bonded over making music. Gimmicks and clever marketing are not their game, which is weird when most bands today are lighting themselves on fire to distinguish themselves from their peers.
When I go to punk shows, I tend to draw a lot of attention, as I have no piercings, no tattoos, and no jewelry even. I revel in the knowledge that in THIS context, it is actually ME being the nonconformist. Perhaps Palamino is also dissenting intentionally?
It seems plausible when I try to describe their music, as they don’t easily fit into a specific genre. They’re not acoustic, but not very distorted either. They’re not hardcore, slowcore, grunge, pop, punk, pop punk, folk punk, folk rock, garage rock or post-rock. They might be kind of emo, but mostly because emo has been so poorly defined. The only thing that really fits is indie, but pretty much everything is indie now. A good comparison has been elusive. Pete and Michelle admitted to liking the Pennsylvania band Balance And Composure, but that does not fully capture it.
Their songs are lush and minimalist at the same time. Instead of veering towards the sonic extremes, they mine the middle ground for subtle textures – which is why I should really mention Stephen Kellner for his brilliant work mixing the album. It is noticeably excellent.
The music may not wow you at first, but it grows on you. The more you listen, the more you can’t stop listening. The guitar-driven songs are super sticky and will absolutely not leave you alone. I tried to think of the best track to typify their sound, but it’s impossible to pick a favorite. There’s the one that I heard first, convincing me to listen to more (Deeper), and the band favorite, Calabretta. But the biggest response at live shows has been Tip of my Tongue; and the closing track is the perfect closing track (On Your Way). Oh! And the two songs Michelle wrote – Leave Here and Edge – are completely haunting me. Her voice is really different and the songs are gorgeous.
Did I just name half of the album? Apparently, I did. It’s not easy to pick a standout when they’re all great.
This is not how bands usually do it. You’re expected to do weird shit for the sake of doing weird shit. Record drums in your bathtub. Utilize lyrical content from your ex-girlfriend’s journal entries. Make a whole song using nothing but backmasked whale sounds. Maybe add a tuba? A banjo? A typewriter? Nope. Not Palamino. The straightforward approach to rock instrumentation is absolute. No keyboards or extra stuff, and no gratuitous solos at all. No big dynamic shifts, key changes or weird time signatures. It’s almost as if they concentrated on making great music instead of getting noticed.
The resulting album is remarkably even. While everyone else is making EPs and singles, here’s a full-length release that begs to be listened to whole. No weak links, no filler. It’s quite good from start to finish.
In case my description was not descriptive enough, here’s one last analogy. Prospect is a 2018 independent sci-fi film. It has no stars. No budget. Hardly any special effects and zero superheroes. But it was hands-down the best movie I saw last year, and now I own it on Blu-ray. (Yes, I know. That’s how I roll.) So, the question is: what did this tiny movie have that all the big blockbusters didn’t?
And that’s exactly what Palamino brings in abundance. Give them a listen. (And maybe watch Prospect as well, if you haven’t already.)