Album Review: Palma Violets – ‘180’

Just after a year since forming, Lambeth’s finest, Palma Violets, release their debut album to high expectations. What we end up with is more or less what we expected; eleven fun rock n roll tracks that are a little rough round the edges, and could have done with another year’s song writing experience, yet display great potential for the future.

The album is named after Studio 180, an arts squat in south London, where the band took up residence and wrote all of the songs that appear on this album. They have gained their reputation from their sweaty live shows. None of these gigs are more sweaty than those in the basement of Studio 180; originally to just friends and family and eventually to tens of record labels desperate for the signature of the ‘next big guitar band’. Whether Pulp’s Steve Mackay, who produced the album, would be able to convert this live energy into a successful record is another matter completely.

The band signed to Rough Trade, and follow in the footsteps of fellow garage rock bands, The Strokes and The Libertines. The Libertines comparisons do not stop here, with frontmen Sam Fryer and Chilli Jesson often being compared to Pete and Carl, and with howling indie hits such as ‘Best Of Friends’ not dissimilar to the most anthemic Libertines songs.

Strangely, the band’s only two a-sides to date, ‘Best Of Friends’ and ‘Step Up For The Cool Cats’, are the first two tracks on the album. They’re both very good songs, don’t get me wrong, but it makes it difficult to resist the urge to skip to the third song. Either way, in terms of song quality, it’s a solid start. ‘Best Of Friends’ features that stadium-sized chorus and ‘Cool Cats’ is a nod to sixties organ-led pop; The Doors without the imagination if you will.

‘All The Garden Birds’ follows. It’s a decent song with a catchy chorus (a recurring theme here), but demonstrates that Palma Violets are best at writing straight up rock n roll. This is proven on the following track, ‘Rattlesnake Highway’. Ignore the garbage about Chilli having a vision of this song in his sleep, and you’ll find it’s just a straightforward rock song.; it’s one of the stand-out tracks on the album.

The ridiculously-titled ‘Chicken Dippers’ is next and is very different to the originally-titled ‘Happy Endings’ that was, for so long, the only YouTube clip you could find. The song shows some imagination and has potential for indie disco material, but, as with so many of their songs, is a mismatch of too many different ideas all squeezed into one song: post-punk, C86, garage rock c.2001.

The inclusion of ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ — the b-side to ‘Best Of Friends’ — as the sixth track tells you all you need to know about Palma Violets. They quite simply do not have enough songs. It’s not so much that ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ is a bad song, it’s a tad dull, yes, and it is about ten ideas at once, but the soothing organ and simple Motown chorus just about save it. In addition to demonstrating why they should’ve been given more time (Rough Trade cashing in on the hype?), it also shows once again that Palma Violets are best at writing energetic indie rock.

Anyway, ‘Tom The Drum’ is fun and brilliantly-executed scuzzy rock. The song finishes with a complete freak out of drums and guitars everywhere. ‘Johnny Bagga’ Donuts’ is another stand-out track, and is impossible not to dance to. It bears a strange resemblance to The Who’s ‘My Generation’, with Chilli’s stuttered ‘ffffff…’ ,and is also a blatant nod to The Clash’s early work. Not bad company to be in, it’s just a shame that the last thirty seconds, which are the best, are faded out so that you can barely hear them. The only blemish on what is otherwise a very good production by Steve Mackay.

The album could effectively end there and probably should. ‘We Found Love’ is throwaway indie rock, it sounds like they were given two days to write a new song, but only used three hours. ‘Three Stars’ is an abysmal and highly embarrassing attempt at a ballad, complete with male choir backing vocals. ‘14’, the first song that Sam and Chilli ever wrote, is ridiculously similar to Longpigs’ ‘She Said’; it is about the bus 14 that Sam and Chilli were on at the time after a night at a party. They woke the next morning with the song’s repeated chorus on their voicemail. At the end of ‘14’, the uncredited ‘Brand New Song’ plays; it’s essentially karaoke, but it’s fun all the same.

So, there we have it. 2013’s great indie guitar hopes have made an album that everybody expected. There are some cracking tunes on it and a few moments of real magic: see the last thirty seconds of both ‘Rattlesnake Highway’ and ‘Johnny Bagga’ Donuts’. However, quite simply, they should’ve been given another year to write some better songs and realise that it’s not necessary to squeeze every influence into one three minute song. There’s talent there though, and lots of it.

Alex Neely

…Alex is listening to Raincoats – ‘Odyshape’

2 Comments on this post.
  • Jimbob
    23 February 2013 at 02:08
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    Agree. So much potential, but it’s like the songs just don’t reach the soaring moments of, say, Up The Bracket or Is This It. Guess we’ll have to wait for “The Next Great Guitar Band™”

  • Esiotrot
    24 February 2013 at 14:37
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    The interesting thing about Palma Violets will be if they do a second album. That’ll be the real test. The one where NME will probably turn on them Viva Brother style.

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