Wild Palms: Until Spring

Unfortunately, conjuring an effectual formula from thin air has proved a lot more bewildering to Wild Palms than reading from their neighbour’s hymn book. After dialling down their raincoat post-punk stylings in a creative fire-sale this last year, on Until Spring the Londoner’s found themselves staring down the barrel of a blank page, which evidently they took to doodling on, in a desperate state of constipation.

A profuse, unfocused splurge, their debut documents a band who know more about what they aren’t than what they are, which at this juncture is everything and nothing all at once. Charged with inventing their own patent, they’ve since learned there’s a difference between having ideas and executing one great one. Without being congested exactly, nevertheless the tracks are muddled with a mishmash of jam-fodder, with the over-extended practice squiggles mounted ever so unobtrusively, ever so meekly. Although that might suggest a compensatory subtlety to their arrangements, in a seemingly perfunctory manner they’ve positioned their ideas in totally meaningless adjacency (the intro of ‘Caretaker’ is particularly inconsequential). There’s intelligence here not sensibility, taste but no style, force as opposed to penetration and least of all an aesthetic manifesto.

Referenced on the eponymous track, Nabakov’s poem Pale Fire informs much of Until Spring‘s glassy facade. An essay on mundanity and the extraordinary experience of artistic discovery, this excerpt from the poem’s abstract prologue summarizes Wild Palm’s modus operandi perfectly: “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 asininely generic 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, in the same poem Wild Palms revere, Nabakov describes how an overbearing brightness will beget neutrality and subsequently dullness, but with nuance comes an epiphany. From Joy Division to MBV to Radiohead, Pale Fire could be the blueprint for any band who’s 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 attempt in the future.

Curiously, it’s uninspiring Mancs 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 Phang Na trustafarian side syncs with Wild Palms ever so slightly tropical touches. But it also warrants consideration that two of Delphic’s members are alumni of a post-Coldplay mope-rock act called (give us a break) “Snowfight In The City Centre” while Until Spring melds your typical post-2003 rhythmic imperative to the universal stadium indie that arrived in the wake of Parachutes, who’s practitioners would pout inanely with moist disney eyes from the middle tiers of the charts (remember Thirteen Senses?).

With their once promising guitarist Darrel Hawkins demoted to the role of human two-note synthesiser while No Wave-loving drummer James Parish keeps time like a sad toy-monkey, at their most uninspired One Night Only are a realistic comparison, while the toxically average Temper Trap are invoked on Lou Hill’s ethereal delivery. It’s a regrettable outcome for an essentially accomplished band, who’ve at least attempted to migrate from tired eighties 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, sharp beauty of a William Eggleston sky photograph; a naturalistic, panoramic, uncluttered, colourful, prosaic, serene and essentially benign vista, wherein life is flat and the air is clean. If anywhere its here that you can sense an infinitesimal suggestion 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, even dreck like ‘Swirling Shards’ and ‘Carnation’ will find a following amongst Bloc Party fans and suchlike.

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” As it transpires he has been true to his word, so all credit to him, but 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, and 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 total unflinching bloody-mindedness. Only time will tell. Lets call this a practice run shall we? John Calvert


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