Album Review: Palace celebrate resilience in the midst of fear with ‘Shoals’.

The Breakdown


Consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?” Herman Melville.

If I were to try and capture the essence of empowering narrative behind The Palace’s new album ‘Shoals’, this would be it. A depiction of the inner and outer conflict ; the dichotomy of fear and joy; the parallel of of what we perceive to be our true self versus how others see us. In the case of music artists, all of these things carry weight, and I am already impressed that British alternative blues- rock group Palace ( composed of members Leo Wyndham, Rupert Turner, Will Dorey, and Matt Hodges ) have taken such a bold move to really address those issues. It is true what they say about a successful work of music : the more personal the story, the more people can relate. Playing into the sea metaphor, ‘Shoals’ is a truly profound and almost feels like a ‘second’ coming of age album, boldly exploring some of life’s greatest questions over its 12 truly compelling tracks. Rather then delve into each track individually, I’d like to invite the reader and listener to imagine themselves in the role of a captain aboard a ship, sailing through waters that twist and turn almost on purpose, resounding in absolute calm. To put it succinctly in the words of the band itself, frontman and main lyricist Leo Wyndham explains: 

“‘Shoals’ is a record about confronting our own fears and anxieties. Through the pandemic we were confronted more than ever with ourselves with little distraction, suddenly seeing who we are in the rawest of forms. It held a mirror up to our flaws and imperfections and forced us to see the real ‘us’.The record symbolises how our minds can have beautiful yet dangerous depths, like the ocean, and how our fears and thoughts are like shoals of fish that move and shift constantly from place to place; chaotic, often untameable and unpredictable.”

Shoals‘ was created during the early days of lockdown last year. Like most the world, at home in isolation, and across various compass points in London, Wyndham, Turner and Matt Hodges began collaborating from a distance rather than settling into a studio together as they always had before. One can obviously hear the aftermath of that freedom , with each member playing up to their own expertise in a completely authentic manner, almost as if the band managed to develop a whole new spectrum of sound; dare I say, they took the sea route less travelled, using fear not as their enemy, but as motivational force that catapulted each of the band members to carry fear with them as they faced themselves, head on. Each track bleeds into each other , shifting between the real and subconscious; the wanton reality and uncomfortable reminder of the past. Sonically and lyrically, each track pulls back and forth between the oars of trying relentlessly to be in the here and now, to eventually surrendering to the over empowering angst. ‘Never Said It Was Easy ‘ in particular reminds us of that dichotomy of simply being human, whist ‘Friends Forever’ and ‘Fade’ are bitterly sweet reminders of events we’d rather put to rest, yet know we must accept . Much like Melville’s Captain Ahab, the protagonist of this entire album fights against his fears head on . The lyrics from ‘Fade‘ ring out loud and clear for this internal anguish : ” You know I bleed out now I’m bleeding/ I’ve got glass veins under thick skin / I’m eroding I need rewilding / I need my life again.”. The middle track ‘ Killer Whale‘ is a slow turning of the wind for the album’s protagonist, slowly coming to terms with a younger more rebellious self: ” Mama said be the best you can be / My Sweet Lucidity “. I would highlight here that sonically so far, the album feels like a wonderful effort from all musically to expand their previous self penned – ‘alternative -bules sound’ for a more indie- rock infused temperament ; the sound overall seems melodious, almost sardonically sweet, in contrast with lyrics that wrench at the heart almost on purpose. As I said before, the album uses water and fear as two almost parallel- themes, meandering between the physical and existential fear. The fear becomes existential ‘Sky Becomes Sea’, a song about death; arguably a universally recognised ultimate fear. “It’s actually a kind of love song, in a way” Wyndham explains, “About the idea of what happens when you die; and if the person you’re with – will you ever see them again? We were thinking about the idea of seeing them again at this place where the sky becomes sea, and reconnecting after life is over.” There’s lots of shredding, delays and effects in this track, a truly effective way to reflect Wyndham’s inner thinking. The final two tracks of the album , ‘Shoals‘ and the conclusive ‘Where Sky Becomes Sea‘ are truly poetically and musically speaking the defining moment of the entire re-working of every person’s inner ‘Ahab’. Wyndham sings across a myriad of psychedelic drama ” the ocean calls me”, when in fact it calls to us all. Finally , he carries fear is his packet, without spite in that space where sky becomes sea. It’s a place we all look to find. That horizon line in ‘ Where Sky Becomes Sea’ is the calm , tranquil sea after a battle of with our own ocean of turbulence : ” There’s a light where sky becomes sea / Crystal water where sky meets sea.”.

Produced by Leo Abrahams , who has worked with Brian Eno, Jon Hopkins, and Imogen Heap among
many others, ‘ Shoals‘ really is a masterpiece and brave step forward for Palace. Following the release of the album, Palace will embark upon their biggest tour yet, with dates across the UK, Europe, and the US, including a not-to-be-missed show at the O2 Brixton Academy on 11th February.

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