New-York based art-punk trio Palberta return with their fifth full length album, coming two years after the release of 2018’s Roach Going Down. Recorded at Matt Labozza’s (PALM, Shimmer) home studio which is located in the original home and family lamp-store of Paul Reuben (Pee Wee Herman) within in the space of four days. The band took to capturing their tightly woven and yet joyously chaotic live aesthetic as closely as possible by only using a maximum of three takes for each track. The end result was a weird and wild album that focuses on tight cut minimalism over heavy ragers and pays an ode to Egg and Bacon sandwiches.
The elements that shape this album are shifting time signatures, catchy riffs and vibrant harmonies. Throughout the tracklist they seem to stick to this tried and true formula, whether they’re singing about cows on “The Cow” or sweet love songs on live favourite “Corner Store”. And this allows the bands sound to stay continually cohesive, almost feeling like one long jam as each song emerges into the next. It’s said sometimes that the band don’t have a drummer, guitarist or bass player, but rather 3 of each. They will constantly swap instruments during live performances, whilst still retaining that integral level of control and synchronicity. And this can be heard all over the album, as each building block of their sound remains constantly dynamic.
That doesn’t mean to say they’ve lost their sparky edge however as “Fragile” is as erratic as it is intoxicating. As the dreamy vocals lull you into a false sense of security whilst almost warning you for what is about to come “Don’t step too close, don’t step that close”. This juxtaposition to the frantic and menacing descending riff that chugs along through the song is encapsulating. And as the vocals build and harmonise you feel as if you’re being conjured under a spell as the band dances around you in time to the driving beat. These hypnotising harmonies are also highlighted on “The Way That You Do” as the song moves from dreamlike infatuation on the chorus to anxiety instrumental passages, the vocals act as almost a blanket that welcomes you back into safety.
These repeated lyrics are another element of the minimalism that the band seems to strive for on this album. On numerous occasions the chorus line will be repeated and the verses will left to be taken over by the instrumentals, creating some jagged but more often than not groovy melodic riffs. On tracks such as the slow jam of “Red Antz” however there’s a certain distinction that these songs stand out as having more flow over their repeated lyric counterparts. “Yeah I can’t pretend what I want” they repeat for nearly 3/4ths of the runtime of “Big Bad Want”, they are driving the message home in true punk fashion but more often than not it can become somewhat tiresome with the clean sound instrumentation.
That’s perhaps the biggest downfall of this album, that it constantly feels like there’s something missing, or the songs just need that little bit extra to boost them into life. Don’t get me wrong you can certainly bang your head to the pounding beat of “Summer Sun”, but like the real summer, it’s over before it can truly be enjoyed. The result of these short bursts of 2 minute jams almost leaves the album feeling like a radio show, with jingles coming in and out, they’ll be bouncing around your head all day but you always feel like you can’t quite pin where the sound came from. Although this formula isn’t uncommon for the band, there’s just that spark of energy missing this time. And even on the longest song “All Over My Face” it feels as if the band aren’t sure where to take the song as it takes in so many different movements and ideas that it’s hard to keep track of where the song is going.
Whilst this album may bounce around from song to song, melody to harmony almost every minute of its run time there’s no denying that Palberta still remain as intriguing as ever. You can call them punk, you can call them pop, but with whatever style they choose to swap around with next, that signature flair of intoxication with their sound is sure to remain.