Overall Score: 9.5/10 Lyrics: 9/10 Musicality: 10/10 Growth: 10/10 Pros: Palm Reader deliver the best album of their career so far with emotionally striking lyrics and stellar musicianship Cons: May be a touch too far from straight-up hardcore for people who only liked Bad Weather (idiots basically)
Part Poison the Well, part Kowloon the Walled City, the fourth LP from the perennially – and criminally – underrated hardcore quintet, Palm Reader, is a dizzying proposition. It fulfils every promise indicated by their stellar third album, Braille and barrels forth into new territories unthinkable on debut LP, Bad Weather. Though it retains the inimitable and sincere ethos of the scene that birthed them, ultimately, Palm Reader are now more than “just hardcore”.
The first taster of Sleepless gave us some indication as to Palm Reader’s challenging new direction. Hold/Release is both a beautifully poetic deconstruction of the destructive nature of emotional repression due to the pressures of archetypal masculinity and a musically dexterous web of melody that captures the erratic, combative internality of such thoughts. Emotive hardcore has been done before though, so you may be wondering what earns Palm Reader’s music the term ‘challenging’.
With the rest of this record, Palm Reader mark themselves out from their contemporaries. A blending of disparate styles and ambient, hypnotic textures mean that the all-out eviscerating slam of Stay Down can coexist alongside a triptych that contains some of the best songs of the year. A Bird and Its Feathers, Islay and False Thirst mark this band out as a unique entity through their ambitious and perfectly-executed use of ambience and dynamism, their towering musicality laying a foundation for Josh Mckeown to express titanic metaphor about love and growth and deceit hidden somewhere between the two. It’s a far cry from Sailin’ On.
The denouement of finale, Both Ends of the Rope sees perhaps the apex of Palm Reader’s current recorded output. A riff that musters both triumph and melancholy, it is intricate yet commanding, delicate yet powerful and sees the record end with verve and grace. This is music from the heart, but more importantly, it’s also music from the brain. This isn’t just some flabby, flopping out of over-earnest song-writing about personal turmoil, this is music that has a soul, has body.
Palm Reader have challenged themselves creatively and given us their best record thus far. They have challenged their fans and commentators to reconsider their abilities and longevity in a way that Braille only hinted at, all while throwing down a gauntlet to any band wanting to express themselves in an exploratory and emotional way. They challenge the notions of what is acceptable as a hardcore band and will quite possibly ostracise themselves from the purists in that community in doing so. But Palm Reader don’t need purists any longer. This is an album for anyone interested in heavy music.
There’s an argument that the best hardcore bands move away from hardcore as they build their legacies. On the surface this statement seems imply there’s a problem with a band being “just hardcore”, but actually it tells us that like so many other genres the restrictions and boundaries are what make innovative artists stand out. Those who dare to reach beyond the parameters can find themselves creating a whole new strand in music’s tapestry. Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come expanded on and redefined a blueprint laid down by Bad Brains, who themselves existed in a blancmange of musical styles and influences. Meanwhile Fugazi erupted as a musical tour-de-force from the still smouldering cinders of Minor Threat’s fleeting but genre-defining existence. There’s merit in the debate.
Palm Reader haven’t created a new genre, but they have smashed preconceptions of what a band forged in the back rooms of Surrey pubs can do. They have reached a new level of creative excellence and given us a work that will stand as definitive of its style. Even if they call it a day on November 28th, they will have left an indelible mark on British music history. Sleepless is a masterpiece.
Sleepless is released November 27th via Church Road Records.