Out of the ruins of an insanely tough year, Palm Reader have wrought an album that defies genre expectations, a sequence of tracks that takes us on an emotional journey while delivering many jaw-dropping metallic moments.
In 2018 Braille amply demonstrated the Nottingham-based band’s promise and helped lock in an enthusiastic fanbase, but fourth studio album Sleepless takes things to another level altogether.
Palm Reader only recently landed with record label with Church Road Records and the timely delivery of Sleepless with associated swag in this of all years is notable achievement.
Talking of churches, the album launched with a livestream filmed in the atmospheric environment of St Edmunds in Rochdale, a Masonic church heavily stacked with symbols of esoteric lore. The video for stand-out track A Birds and Its Feathers survives as a record of what was a goosebump-raising ceremonial event.
Fortunately you don’t need to be a secret-society member or even a card-carrying fan of hardcore/post-metal to enjoy Sleepless – a willingness to be overwhelmed for 50 minutes is the only requirement.
Hold/Release is a wrenching, explosive opener, an avalanche hammering down around a delicate guitar figure. It’s the kind of track that keeps on expanding – just when you think it has gone as far as it can there’s a new horizon.
The adrenaline onslaught continues with Stay Down. The track could be a 2020 survivors’ anthem, with lyrics like ‘Beating after beating. Rebound…This life is a lesson to learn’ except none of the writing on this album is as simplistic as that. The anguished/triumphant vocals hint at some sort of dark catharsis but rarely deliver obvious meanings.
SUMAC: May You Be Held – “like trying to escape from tangled barbed wire”
The chokehold on the listener eases somewhat for the spacious commencement of Ending Cycle with some evocative keyboards adding layers of brooding melancholy – then the track builds to another of the album’s towering sonic spectacles.
Willow brings a haunting dimension to the album – according to vocalist Josh Mckeown the track was ‘written after I’d been told a heartbreaking story of loss and young motherhood. I wrote it with the intention of illuminating the strength of any mother in that unfortunate position and to offer a permanent gesture of respect to them.‘
A Bird and Its Feathers is a compelling album highlight. There’s a tension here, between searing feedback-threaded sound and poetic emotional depth – the alchemy, artistry and graft that somehow unite disparate elements to make this work is the heart of Sleepless.
Islay is an instrumental, named for the Scottish island that is the source of those insanely tarry, seaweedy whiskies that take no prisoners. Listening to the slightly folky and rather forlorn guitars you can almost see bleak mountains looming through a smirr of rain. It’s a track that demands to be synced to a scandi-noir detective show – or perhaps, with the echoey twang of the guitar, a Hebridean spaghetti western.
Interlude over we move into False Thirst that opens with synths to the fore, coming across as a sort of darkly menacing prog before building to typhonic levels.
Brink sustains its attack throughout, an effect not unlike being in a field of lightning strikes for five unending minutes – it comes as a relief that A Love That Tethers contains some pools of tenderness.
Then we wash up, bruised and battered, on the shores of Both Ends of the Rope, a closer that does everything the rest of Sleepless does, only more so – it broods, it climbs, it rips open strange and disturbingb emotional vistas.
Taken as a whole, which is the best way to experience it, Sleepless is a gigantic album that shows Palm Reader to have a unique voice as well as the confidence and commitment of a major band.
Sleepless is out now via Church Road Records.