The story of Painted Palms is an interesting one. When cousins Reese Donohue and Chris Prudhomme first began making music together Donohue was living in San Francisco and Prudhomme was living near New Orleans. They started sending ideas for songs back and forth via e-mail and before they knew it they were creating songs together, resulting in their first release, the Canopy EP, which was soon discovered by Of Montreal ringleader Kevin Barnes. Canopy was released on Secretly Canadian during April of 2011 and the guys proceeded to tour with Of Montreal, Braids and STRFKR. And then Prudhomme moved to San Francisco, kind of joining Donohue. I say “kind of” because the duo decided to keep on collaborating by sending ideas back and forth via e-mail. Donohue might send a brief, looping beat to Prudhomme, who’d reply with a vocal melody. And then they’d send the track back and forth until it was finished. This is how their entire sophomore effort, Forever, was created. It’s a bit surprising, then, that it’s so damn good.
The album opens with “Too High,” a jumpy, feel good number that’s like a slightly gritty version of Passion Pit with its buoyant beats and swirling melody. The lyrics, however, cut deeper than the uppity music as the song concludes with Donohue singing, “Talkin’ ’bout yourself and I don’t care / I’m looking at myself and I’m not there.” It’s the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. To that end, “Not Really There” opens with what sounds like some sort of a carnival where something really bad is happening. Like a serial killer abducting his next victim. Fortunately, the rest of the semi-psychedelic song isn’t so sinister. It’s one of the darker-sounding tracks on the album, but buried beneath the fuzzy electro-tinkering is a pretty guitar line that would be at home on a track by The Beach Boys. And the lyrics carry a universal theme: being with someone who’s not really there. “I try to explain, you’re not really there,” Donohue laments.
The blissful “Here It Comes” calls to mind The Beach Boys even more with its sun-drenched instrumentation and melancholic lyrics that echo Brian Wilson’s darker songs. “I don’t trust a single thing she says,” Donohue sings matter-of-factly. But the song proves to be less about her and more about him, chock full of introspection that’s “hard to explain.”
“Hypnotic” isn’t quite hypnotic but it is a rather delightful loop-fest reminiscent of early Garbage and pretty much anything by Animal Collective. Certainly not bad influences to have.
The title track, “Forever,” is one of the album’s most complex and interesting tracks. Initially, it sounds like intense ’80’s new wave and, perhaps, a bit like vintage Depeche Mode in the beat department. But then the dreamy chorus is straight out of The Beatles 101. As it continues, it goes psychedelic, like an Iron Butterfly track nobody’s heard in forever. As for the lyrics, they’re a confessional about not knowing “what to be” and thinking about oneself too much.
The album winds down and closes with “Angels,” which begins with Donohue simply singing along to light acoustic guitar. “She didn’t understand that I was having trouble in my head,” he sings. “I kept listening to all the things that no one ever said.” It’s food for thought. About thought. Which more or less sums up the lyrical content of the album and that’s not a bad thing. As the song continues, it has an air of Best Coast with its lovely harmonizing in the background, delicate tambourine and other sunshiny sounds. Eventually, drums, electric guitars and other sounds come pouring into the picture and it proves to be quite climactic, ending the gorgeous album perfectly.