Friday, November 12, 2010

Record review: Calm Palm Vapor - 'Morning Pacific'

Posted by Sasha

We've all seen collaborations between differently specialized musicians reap some pretty great creative rewards, and Calm Palm Vapor can be counted among them. Southsiders Pierogi and secretwars have teamed up in a union functionally similar to that of Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, the two halves of The Postal Service. With the former manning melodies and the latter on beats, these two have combined efforts to create a full-length of breezy electronic pop, which they describe as "space motown" or "dreamstream."

Calm Palm Vapor's sound, however, is hardly derivative of the aforementioned collaborative project. While the Death Cab/Dntel lovechild reached the heights that it did by emphasizing the contrast between its two sources, Pierogi and secretwars blend their respective sounds into something that sounds completely natural. The vocals and guitars don't sound like organic outsiders in a world of glittering, icy machinery; instead, it's often difficult to pick out the analog from the digital on Morning Pacific. Guitars weave effortlessly into synths over the bones of honest-to-God real drums while the vocals cruise on above. On "Everyday We Grow," a pulsing alien growl tangles roots with peppy, off-the-cuff basslines while sheets of guitars and vocals fall translucent in the foreground. For its deep textural medleys, it's one of the most compelling tracks on the record.

Morning Pacific takes a few referential turns, some expected, others delightfully odd. We hear some Depeche Mode-style choral flourishes on "Nothing Together," which isn't surprising given the love of strange textures that Calm Palm Vapor shares with them. There are nods to older influences scattered around as well. The "motown" part of the self-invented genre is subtle but present in some classic basslines and melodies, though it's never without a healthy dose of space as well. "They Are Mine," another highlight, is a hazy waltz overlaid with slowed surf guitars and glockenspiel twinkles. Its backbone feels like it's been handpicked out of a former era, but the washes of sound and lyrical oddities keep it out of the realm of hip retro throwbacks. There's no irony in recycling the format here; it's sincerely embraced, adorned with present textures. The climax, when everything but the vocals cuts away and then crashes back in after a few measures, is handled perfectly as it grips us with its urgency.

There's some Guided By Voices-style fun in the driving two minutes of "Galaxy Con Glass" before the record slows into a bit of a lull. Even then at its slowest, we're treated to some marvelous ambience under the vocals of "Before Everything," like multicolored smoke wafting above industrial skylines. The track ends up giving itself over to its strongest component by the end as the slow glazes of synth explode into bright melodies. I found myself holding out for moments like this throughout the record, where the madness that comes out of experimenting with synths and pedals is used as fuel for a song's momentum. Even some of the smaller embellishments were the strongest parts of certain tracks; "Made a Choice" is full of reverbed guitar haze that slowly lifts away to piano tinklings reminiscent of those at the end of Sigur Ros's "Vaka." It's a moment of strangeness that's over way too soon, a clear and improbably old sound reaching through the fuzz into the past. Morning Pacific occasionally limps between moments like these, placing too much weight on the the vocals, which are sometimes gentle to the point of weakness. There certainly are stretches where the vocals take command to great effect, like in the multi-voiced chorus of "From Within," but too often they sound thin without enough of the hazy layers that Calm Palm Vapor excel at constructing.

Ultimately, Morning Pacific has plenty to offer in its awesome array of textures and happy swings through genres. Calm Palm Vapor has cultivated a fuzzy dream-pop sound field with roots equally deep in the analog and digital worlds. It's a comfortable breeding of a multitude of influences without any attempts at forcing retro cool.

Calm Palm Vapor will be celebrating the release of Morning Pacific at Subterranean with The Single Helix and Secret Colours this Friday at 9:30 p.m. You can stream the whole record here, or listen to "Everyday We Grow" below.

Calm Palm Vapor - Everyday We Grow by CalmPalmVapor

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