Sunday, 6 February 2011

Norman Palm - Shore to Shore

Norman Palm's Shore to Shore is out on March 14th on City Slang Records, following the February 14th release of the single Sleeper. It's a dedicated study of laid back vocals and stripped-bare instrumental backing. Tracks where you can pick out each instrument used sit alongside epic layerings of all kinds of sound on a playlist that passes in turn through introspection, uplifting melodies, cyclical musical motifs and soothing choral performances.

It's all part of an identity that makes Norman Palm seem both experienced and compelling - from Johanna Ruebl's promotional photography (see below) to the overall sound of the album. You're likely to like at least some of what you hear, and may love the whole thing, but either way Norman Palm will have you intrigued and, if you're anything like me, keen to hear more.

High Points

There are a few good high points on this album, which throughout is committed to musical clarity - instruments are well placed from left to right across the stereo space, while the vocals - both lead and backing - are given their own areas in which to shine. It's a carefully structured and effective approach that helps to give the feeling of listening live, as opposed to the present-day trend for the 'recorded' versions of songs to sound nothing like the same person singing them live.

Both Images and Landslide are particularly fine, putting much of the true quality just ahead of the midpoint of the album. It's a good move, helping things to build within the first 15 minutes or so of listening - and making sure Shore to Shore doesn't plateau in the middle. Landslide is especially good - I don't even know why, there's just something catchy and uplifting about it that I like.

To be honest, though, there are a lot of tracks here that I enjoy. $20 (read it 'Twenty Bucks', not 'Twenty Dollars') could easily be two minutes long, but is actually over five minutes. It's cyclical and, yes, elements are repeated throughout the song, but it doesn't get boring - it has a story to tell, and it's a great tune to have playing if you're in an introspective mood. The title alone makes it clear, this is about evaluation of life, and hints at making a change. Steel drums towards the end of the track create a musical motif not often heard in the mainstream, and perfectly complement the rest of the instruments in use here.

A mention also for Easy - partly because I wanted to give you guys a preview of it below. It's easy to see why this was chosen as the track to promote Shore to Shore - it's got a certain quality to it that sounds like it should be playing over the finale of a cult indie movie or something. It's not the best example to give of the rest of the album though - things elsewhere on the disc are much more guitar-led and upbeat, really.

The Verdict

With so many high points, it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed listening to this album. In fact, I've enjoyed listening to it in full quite a few times now. There's genuine variety here - not just half and half upbeat and ballads, but a sense that these were tracks each written to be the best they could be, rather than to prop one another up on a disc.

At 40 minutes, it's not the longest album, but it's par for the course these days. Importantly, you're not short-changed on each track, by any means. At 2:17, WDYD? is by far the shortest track, but with those exceptions everything's around the four-minute mark or longer. The aforementioned $20 is the longest by a single second, but the duration of all the tracks, as I said before, helps to make each into an experience in its own right rather than a brief throwaway or a bridge to the next album track or planned single release. It's refreshing to hear, and should make sure Shore to Shore stays in your stack of recently played CDs for quite some time.

Final Score: 77%

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