Having followed Palisades from the beginning of their career, I’ve always stated that I wouldn’t be surprised if they became more of a pop band. I’d embrace that turning point actually. With 2 successful full-lengths of electronic R&B/trap-infused post-hardcore and a debut EP under their belt, it’s safe to say that this third record is the release that the band potentially have the most followers they’ve ever had.
It’s with great pleasure that I confirm that this self-titled record is faithful to Palisades’ backbone, as in catchy, emotional, vibey music. Their identity has not been compromised, only refined. Opting this time around for a more straight-forward contemporary alternative sound and ditching most of the electronics for tasteful ambience, this is easily the most mature work we’ve yet heard from Palisades.
Remembering that the members began the band in their late teens, there is both personal and sonic growth to be found here with the aging of the artists. The album revolves around the personal struggles of its makers, making for an understandable framework to self-title the record.
Beginning with opener “Aggression”, the record displays its most dynamic moments, those being the contrast between the softer verses, a screamed hook and a heavier, energetic rock chorus as well as each verse belonging to a different vocalist. Speaking of, with the departure of former bassist/backing vocalist Brandon Sidney comes the arrival of another Brandon, Mr. Brandon Elgar. He is certainly a worthy successor, though underutilized. By contrast, he goes for a more pop-punk higher-pitched vocal style rather than Sidney’s smooth R&B croon. It works well, his best moment being in the aforementioned “Aggression”.
Lead vocalist Lou Miceli shows immense growth and gives his most confidently versatile performance on this record than on any other in his career, understandably when the realization is made that the songs heard here is crafted from his own experiences and reactions. Break-ups, loss and lust are all covered, as is some surprisingly blunt vulnerability in another of the album’s highlights “Through Hell”, the heaviest track here. Revealing and dark, Lou admits he may not be the best guy to get into a relationship with due to how he treats the women he dates. It’s through writing about it that I’m sure he has come to grips with who he is and what he can do to improve. Very respectable. That honesty permeates the record and makes for an intimate listening experience as the band intended.
…Okay, so maybe there’s a LITTLE compromise. It’s so subtle you won’t notice unless you’re really gung-ho on your ‘core music — Extremely few breakdowns to be heard. The last record was practically driven by them, sure, but given the more subtle, accessible style here, breakdowns aren’t needed. You won’t miss them. Besides, when they are used with great timing, such as in “Aggression” they’re damned satisfying.
Let’s put it this way: Palisades have done a lot of growing up and are superior songwriters to their younger selves. I’d even argue that this style fits them best. With that being said, there are a flurry of ideas that didn’t really need to be included on this record. Chief among them are the numerous Bring Me The Horizon-isms within the vocal effects and styles. “That’s The Spirit” was a hallmark record for the scene both bands occupy, but its influence is becoming a bit tepid. And it’s prominent throughout this record. It causes Palisades to sound a little less like themselves and more akin to the standard ‘alternative’ stylistic choices that come with the cliche jump that their peers continue to strive towards.
I much prefer when Palisades use their pop influences to their own unique effect such as in album highlight, “Fall”, a better Justin Bieber song than Justin Bieber has ever performed. I can’t argue with success though — Just listen to that hook in “Cold Hearts (Warm Blood)”. Massive. The shouty vocal style is one that Lou has only just begun to use and I admit, it does suit him. Validates do bring their own flair to this approach and when the atmosphere, expression and hooks work in tandem, like in “Fall”, beautiful work is created.
Though not every song here is golden.The record begins strong, but fizzles a bit near its end. There is an album open and close, but they’re not as defined as they could be. And maybe that’s just as well, because this is, after all, a collection of thoughts and emotions in musical form. The mind never ceases, so maybe this album is meant to feel as if it never truly ends. If that’s the case, Palisades nailed it.
Make no mistake though, there’s an awful lot of gold to be found here. The duds don’t outweigh the shiny, wonderous moments that are the album’s three lead singles, “Cold Hearts (Warm Blood)” and “Let Down”, potentially the catchiest Palisades song ever. “Better Chemicals”, “Dark” and “Dancing With Demons” also belong here, and that’s due to their hooks and execution. This record thrives off its hooks and that employs a more realized songwriting approach that could give Palisades credibility when it comes to bleeding over into other genres, something they’ve always hinted at and something they as hard-working musicians deserve. Their self-defining work heard here feels like the first step of something bigger.
Moments of greatness and abundant catchiness make this move into the alternative and pop worlds worth a listen, but there's room for improvement.