The offbeat New York trio’s wicked sense of humor shines on an album of punchy, peculiar songs that register as pleasant and uncomfortable at once.
Time is rarely wasted on a Palberta record. The New York trio favors jagged, punchy, peculiar songs that make their points in a minute or two but, perhaps paradoxically, work best when absorbed a few dozen at a time. The effect is something like binge-watching a cult TV show: Palberta’s stylistic conceits seem awkward and foreign at first, but over time their odd logic starts to make total sense. Soon enough, it’s hard to remember what life was like without them.
Following a handful of early EPs and singles, the band’s first full-length, 2016’s Bye Bye Berta, sharpened their anarchic vision. Palberta leap another level on the hyper-charged Roach Goin’ Down, an album whose addictiveness reveals another paradox: multi-instrumentalists Lily Konigsberg, Anina Ivry-Block, and Nina Ryser craft a sound that is simultaneously pleasant and uncomfortable. The trio’s rushing energy, danceable staccatos, and sunny singing are as cozy as a basement full of friends listening to records together. But every track subverts musical conventions, too; there are skewed rhythms, off-key vocals, detuned guitar parts. This is music that pokes as it soothes. You can swing and smile to Roach Goin’ Down, but Palberta are not about to let you settle in.
That central dichotomy gives the trio the freedom to get minimal without getting staid. Many compositions have just a couple of parts and a few lines of lyrics. One obvious candidate for Palberta ur-song is “Palberta,” which opens with the trio yelling “We’re Palberta!” before ripping out a minute-long rickety groove that falls somewhere between ESG and Captain Beefheart. Even more representative of their style is “Sound of the Beat,” whose entire lyric is, “Hey! That’s the sound of the beat/I can hear it now! That’s the sound of the beat!” It’s a simple template for a chant-along dance number, and the music is sure to get hips moving. But the group’s stretched singing and discordant guitars make the song unnerving in a way that’s weirdly infectious.
That effect is enhanced by Palberta’s pervasive sense of humor. It’s present in their unfettered playfulness, with all three members switching instruments from song to song. When they sing together, you can imagine that they’re beaming at one other. The music sounds like it was fun to make, too—during “Ziddy,” the three musicians actually crack themselves up—in large part because the band takes so many chances and eschews perfection in favor of enthusiasm.
But there’s also humor of a more wicked stripe on Roach Goin’ Down. Often, Palberta’s sparse words feels parodic, poking fun at self-serious punk and rock clichés by turning mundanities into goofy anthems; the lyrics to “Cherry Baby” are just the title repeated over and over again. “Rich Boy” is a literal parody song: Palberta skewer the Hall and Oates hit “Rich Girl,” switching the chorus from “You’re a rich girl, and you’ve gone too far” to “She’s a rich boy, and she’s gonna go out,” thereby flipping the lazy contempt of the original (which was, in fact, inspired by a boy, but Daryl Hall was too scared to openly criticize a male). The track recalls the trio’s smashing of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” on Bye Bye Berta, but this deconstruction has even sharper teeth.
It’s that sharpness that makes Roach Goin’ Down a new peak for Palberta. The album achieves consistent conceptual acuity without losing the band’s shambling edges or tightrope daring. A lot of self-made indie bands from the past four decades have struck this balance, but the trio’s talent for packing a nuclear punch into a few chords, some rhythmic twists, and a pithy spit of words bears the strongest spiritual resemblance to Minutemen. That’s heady company for a band that isn’t even five years old, but Palberta’s quickly honed prowess and growing mastery of their own slanted vision suggests even higher peaks to come.
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