Brooklyn's Palomar makes indie-pop sound like it wandered through a cloud of gamma radiation and wound up with superpowers: lurid muscles, torn jeans, the whole nine. Rachel Warren's singing is simple and tonally pure, with the same mix of velvety sweetness and skyscraping grandeur that makes boys swoon for Jenny Lewis and Tracyanne Campbell, and her lyrics tend toward the ambiguously lovelorn: There are songs about depleted relationships, like "The Air Between Us"; songs about missed chances, like "Bridge of Sighs"; and songs that don't seem to be about much of anything, like "He Came to Stay". Like Au Revoir Simone, the quartet knows how to ratchet up the euphoria of glossy harmonies with abrupt register shifts. Like Tilly and the Wall, they're fond of clattering, makeshift percussion: the cheery death wish "Bury Me Closer" features drummer Dale Miller banging on a bucket, for instance.
But All Things, Forests has one quality that distinguishes Palomar from their precious peers-- the urge to rock the fuck out. Twee-leaning indie-pop tends to find a natural sonic parallel in gauzy and jangling tones, which are not absent from this album. Opener "Bury Me Closer" is relatively staid, with its watery organs and efflorescing vocal harmonies, although its spring-wound percussion and rangy bass render it taut. "Surprise Us" gently massages a two-note guitar twinkle and an acoustic strum toward an emphatic yet dreamy climax that's uncommon, but not entirely foreign, to this sort of indie-pop. You get a sense that Palomar had to actively restrain these songs from exploding into hooky rockers, as they seem so fond of the technique elsewhere.
Most of the album displays a surprisingly delicate balance between adorability and raw power reminiscent of alt-rock revivalists Sybris. Palomar tempers their softer side with muscular percussion, hard-charging bass lines, and some of the starriest guitar pyrotechnics this side of Broken Social Scene. On "Our Haunt", a slinky minor-key guitar figure, ominous low-end, and squalls of feedback build tension for its sturdy main riff and chorus of crashing fuzz-chords, and Warren injects a dash of low-key gloom into her naturally sunny voice. This tension between the melodious and the strident recurs throughout the album: "The Air Between Us" goes out in a white-hot guitar blaze; "Beats Beat Nothing" slips limpid guitar tones into its churning rock drive; meandering rattlefest "He Came to Stay" squeals and transforms into an outsized stomper. Suddenly, the phrase "twee as fuck" sounds a little less ironic than it did before.
1. Bury Me Closer
2. Our Haunt
3. How to Beat Dementia
4. The Air Between Us
5. You're Keeping Us Up
6. Beats Beat Nothing
7. He Came to Stay
8. Bridge of Sighs
9. Top Banana
11. Surprise Us
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CD: Jewel case with full lyric booklet