Four young lads from South London with a black-and-white album cover and a penchant for scrappy, spunky rock n’ roll– sounds familiar, right? Palma Violets are the latest British imports to fit that description, and their debut LP, 180, serves as their first proper introduction to the world. But while the setting is all too familiar, the story is rather one-of-a-kind; Palma Violets aren’t just a buzz band from Britain. They’re the buzz band.
Together for just a year-and-a-half, Palma Violets have already amassed a substantial online following, critical acclaim (and trophies!) from the NME and BBC, and a single that was voted the greatest of 2012 (“Best of Friends”). Clearly, the band have friends in high places, because the Rough Trade released 180 was produced by Steve Mackey of Pulp. All of these things should add up to create a winning combination, and in many ways, they do: 180 is an impressive debut. It just seems that during its transatlantic crossing, something might have been lost in translation.
180 opens with “Best of Friends,” which, in all fairness, is a pretty damn good pub jam. On the much lauded (see above) track, co-frontmen Chili Jesson and Sam Fryer do their very best to ward off the advances of several feckless groupies. In other words, there’s no one that isn’t going to like this song. “I wanna be your best friend,” Jesson croons in a voice that’s decidedly cool and rough around the edges. “I don’t want you to be my girl.” Ouch.
While “Best of Friends” is the sort of simple, melodic garage rock number that never gets old, the rest of 180 feels a lot longer than it should. “Step Up for the Cool Cats” introduces a clear late 60s, keyboard/organ Doors influence that continues for the duration of the album. Of 180’s eleven tracks, few come close to matching the joyous, carefree genius of “Best of Friends.” Still, “Rattlesnake Highway” and “Chicken Dippers” (even with its wtf moniker) are both standouts, as is “Johnny Bagga’ Donuts.” The latter– a tailor-made Radio 1 pop hit– is what might happen if the Sex Pistols cleaned up and went to Sunday church.
Despite their obvious influences– ya know, The Clash, The Libertines, Buzzcocks, The Ramones– 180 is actually quite a prim, polished record. Its sound even hints that a cleaner, more democratic influence like Bruce Springsteen could have been involved in the album’s inception. All these different sounds and influences might just leave you dizzy, and no, it isn’t from the beer. But Palma Violets are young, and they’ve got time to get where they’re going. First, though, they’ll need to sort out exactly who they want to be.