I wasn’t particularly surprised when post metal stalwarts Isis called it a day back in 2010; the band felt, at least to this particular fan/outsider, like it had run its course. I don’t mean that in a negative way; over the course of thirteen years, they released five full length albums, at least three of which (Celestial, Oceanic and Panopticon) should be considered all-time classics of the genre, toured the world, earned a legion of fans, garnered heaps of critical acclaim at almost every turn, and came to be considered among the most forward-thinking bands in heavy music. Honestly, where does one go after all that? Isis, unlike so many bands who attain similar status, smartly decided to go out on top.
It did surprise me when I caught wind of the news that three members of the now-defunct Isis (bassist Jeff Caxide, drummer Aaron Harris and guitarist Bryant Clifford-Meyer) had entered into a collaboration known as Palms with Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno. As much as it caught me off guard, it made perfect sense; Deftones have long since freed themselves from the shackles of the nu metal tag they’d been saddled with early in their career to become one of the most interesting heavy bands in the mainstream; what they’ve done on albums such as White Pony and the recent Koi No Yokan isn’t all that far removed from the heavy yet heavily textured, moody approach of Isis, and Moreno’s affinity for outside collaborations has already been documented via the likes of Team Sleep and Crosses. Sufficiently intrigued, I waited patiently for the promo to arrive at my digital doorstep.
As it turns out, Palms sounds exactly how you’d expect it to, but that ain’t no bad thing. Imagine Moreno lending his voice to the more mellow parts of the last two Isis albums and you’re halfway there; already sounds pretty fucking glorious, doesn’t it? The music possesses that same utterly gorgeous, tidal ebb and flow that Isis embodied at their best, and yet at the same time is infused with an utterly unique character thanks to Moreno’s vocals. His work here is perhaps a bit more subdued than what he does with Deftones, but it’s still plenty rich with pathos. It’s a combination that keeps the album compelling across its six lengthy tracks in spite of the album’s largely laid back nature.
In fact, for coming from current and former members of two bands who are considered to be at the forefront of modern metal, there isn’t much metal if any at all to be found on Palms. Elements of post rock and shoegaze are the dominant forces here, and it’s a pleasure to hear these guys not worrying about being heavy and fully getting their My Bloody Valentine/Slowdive mojo working. I said a similar thing recently in regards to Deafheaven’s Sunbather; the two bands occupy similar sonic territory, but Palms are far less scathing, the ethereal comedown to Deafheaven’s abrasive musical vertigo.
Comparisons aside, Palms are already experts at painting pictures with music, and provided you’re willing to the let the soundscape they create here envelop you fully, you’re liable to be inundated with hazy visions of the West Coast. In fact, if the album reminds me of one thing, it’s driving in California in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s simply the fact that the band hails from the golden state, or perhaps it’s the sunset scene that graces the album’s cover, but I think there’s more to it than that. It’s hard for me to explain, probably because I’ve never lived there for longer than six months, but songs like “Mission Sunset” and “Tropics” have a breezy quality to them that just feels like California. Listening to Palms makes me wish I was there even more than usual.
Palms is an exciting new chapter for both Moreno and Caxide/Harris/Clifford-Meyer and my go-to chillout album of 2013. It likely won’t surprise any diehard fans of Isis or Deftones, but it’ll surely please the hell out of them, and there’s a lot to be said for that. But what might be most significant is the way in which it opens up a world of possibilities for these musicians; one could see them getting heavier with their next release, but one could also just as easily see them getting more mellow and ambient, or something somewhere in between. Whatever the case, if this stunning debut is anything to go by, I’ll be along for the ride.