A year and a half ago, Painted Palms released their wonderful debut, Forever, which was an album full of diverse songs, which seemed to draw inspiration from such artists as Passion Pit, Best Coast, The Beach Boys and Of Montreal. On their new album, Horizons, it’s not so easy to discern their influences, as their sound would seem to be drawn from certain styles of music rather than particular artists. To that end, there are two styles in particular that are audible all over Horizons: psychedelic pop from the ’60’s and synth pop from the ’80s.
When vocalist Chris Prudhomme and producer Reese Donohue made Forever, they collaborated by sending ideas back and forth via e-mail; what might start off as a simple drum loop would be a finished song by the time they finished sending it back and forth a dozen times. It was surely a huge reason why the album was so eclectic. That was a huge part of its charm though. With Horizons, their music is far less experimental, which might disappoint some listeners, but it’s also a much more cohesive record, sounding more like a full band effort than an experiment. (Prudhomme and Donohue did start off sending ideas back and forth via e-mail again, but then they ventured into the studio for the first time, which clearly resulted in a singular vision.)
Horizons begins with its best song, the catchy “Refractor,” where layers of synth are like glitter falling from the ceiling onto the up-tempo drum pad beats, off of which they surge and sparkle. “Everyone is here / Light reflecting off your eyes,” Prudhomme sings joyfully, indicating that this is going to be a less melancholic, happier record than their debut. Forever fans might start off feeling let down by their sugar high, but that sugar rushes to your head and tickles your pleasure centers before the song is over. Give it a few listens and you’ll be tempted to sing along to its charming chorus.
Things immediately slow down with the second track, “Contact,” which could almost pass for a lost Devo track, but it’s no less enjoyable. You’ll be tapping your foot along to the snappy beats in no time.
The most colorful song on hand is “Glaciers,” which sounds a lot warmer than you would guess from the title. As the synthesized notes rise and fall, they produce a sensation not unlike what you’d get from looking into a kaleidoscope. “Each landscape makes its way through me,” Prudhomme sings, as though the end of the rainbow is inside of him.
While all the songs on Horizons are synthylicious, there are more than sufficient variations from song to song. You might not hear them the first time you give it a spin, but with multiple plays they begin to unveil themselves. It’s like when you see a bouquet of flowers. At first your brain just takes an instantaneous snap shot of the flowers as a whole, but as you continue to look at them, you see the individual flowers and identify them. In that fashion, you’ll eventually detect something of an industrial influence on “Gemini,” which starts off sounding a bit like Nine Inch Nails’ “Terrible Lie,” which it is almost as melancholic as. “I will let you come to me / I will wait for what will be,” Prudhomme sings somewhat anxiously.
Later, “Disintegrate” finally delivers the experimental feel of Forever, coming across like a Passion Pit remix of a Duran Duran song. Although the chorus doesn’t pack as much of a hook as some of the other songs on the album, the tempo speeds up a bit, making one wonder if one of the guys wrote the music for the verses then the other wrote the chorus. They feel like they’re parts of two different songs spliced together in that sense, but that’s the kind of thing that made Forever so enjoyable. Perhaps Horizons would’ve been more interesting if it had more of that, but why dwell on that possibility when you can let these synthy, infectious riffs swirl around inside of you? After all, if this album was their debut, you’d surely love it, provided you’re a synth pop fan. Don’t let expectations based on Forever ruin the Horizons experience for you. Why resist a perfectly good dopamine rush?