When you’re named the “best new band in Britain” and your first single is dubbed “Song Of The Year” by your home country’s most influential publication, it’s safe to assume there are some lofty expectations in store for your forthcoming debut LP. This challenge of towering anticipation from certain media outlets and fans alike is exactly what swaggering London four-piece Palma Violets faces with the release of its first album, 180. The emotive howls of their pub rock provide catchy blasts of energy that are more familiar than groundbreaking but who’s quality should not be discounted for failing to meet the hyperbole that preceded them.
NME’s high praise of the band while still in its infancy has rightfully recalled a parallel between the Violets and fellow Brits Arctic Monkeys, whose similarly meteoric rise on the strength of a grassroots Internet campaign rendered comparable hype and reception. That’s by and large where the correlation between the two ends, though stylistically, Palma Violets do lean toward a yearning romanticism in favor of Alex Turner and company’s raucous brashness. Lead single and 180 opener “Best Of Friends,” features singers Alexander “Chilli” Jensen and Sam Fryer crying out the friend-zone plea, “I wanna be your best friend, I don’t want you to be my girl!”
A more apt comparison for the British quartet may be the Stateside Walkmen, with whom Palma Violets share a black-and-white, mod-rock aesthetic backed by blaring organs, jangly guitars and drunkenly charmed vocals. Throughout the album, Jensen and Fryer’s vocals resemble the same jagged angst that made Hamilton Leithauser’s shouts on “The Rat” so memorable. Like that song, but unlike much of the Walkmen’s catalog, 180 brings a consistently wild bounciness to the table that effectively captures the moxie of their live shows at Studio 180 in Lambeth, for which the release is named. Tracks like “Rattlesnake Highway” and “Tom The Drum” contain an element of unpredictable leather-jacket-clad danger that sharpens the album’s edge.
For all of the late-night drunken confessionals of “Chicken Dippers” and “Last Of The Summer Wine,” the album is well balanced with sunnier tunes like “Step Up For The Cool Cats.” The reverence for equity between several moods makes for a nicely constructed pace that carries a 40-minute listen through without much of any grind.
So are Palma Violets the saviors of British rock? Further yet, does it matter? Upon receiving similar tags from NME, predecessors such as Oasis, Blur and Arctic Monkeys generally have achieved astounding U.K. chart success before busting through across the pond with a majorly successful single. On eight-minute “14,” with tongue fully in cheek, they sing, “I’ve got a brand new song, it’s gonna be a number one,” and later, “I’ve got a brand new song, it’s two minutes, fifty-one,” followed by repeatedly shouting “radio friendly!” For Palma Violets’ part, it appears all of the labels, crowns and proclamations are, well, bollocks.