ALBUM REVIEW: Palace Winter – ‘Nowadays’

8/10

Palace Winter are Copenhagen-based Australian Carl COLEMAN and Dane Caspar HESSELAGER. Having played in bands separately for years, a mutual respect for each other’s styles encouraged them to start writing together. Coleman, a singer-songwriter joining Heeselager – a producer and classically trained pianist. Both, however, appreciative of a strong melody, which is evident throughout the atmospheric dark-pop they create. Their debut EP, “Medication” was released in 2015 and in the summer of 2016, their debut album, “Waiting For The World To Turn” arrived.

Described as one of the most exciting indie breakthroughs of 2016, the album was championed by BBC 6 Music – who added Soft Machine and H.W. Running to their playlist – in addition to critical acclaim from The Guardian, NME and Q Magazine. The album also kick-started a European tour, including two sold-out London shows and a string of summer festival slots.

Nowadays, their follow up album is set for release on 4th May 2018 via Copenhagen-based label Tambourhinoceros. Built around floating keys, melodic rhythmic guitar lines and an insisting beat Nowadays is both a bright and moody album that further develops the group’s unique sound. Palace Winter’s writing and production process is completely self-sufficient. As with their debut, Nowadays was written by the duo over the course of nine months and recorded and produced by Hesselager at his studio in Copenhagen.

Hesselager states: “The process was pretty much the same, although the outcome feels different. We’re good and efficient together in the writing process and we’re constantly working to build on our strengths. “

And that co-operation can be heard in the musicality of the record. Coleman’s love of Americana and folk combine fluidly with Hesselager’s background in electronic and classical music. Nowadays is an album with themes that refer to the human condition, such as mortality, loss and the challenges of being present in a world full of distractions. These themes are explored through songs that swell between tender ballads and high-energy melodies.

Opening track Birth – is a mellow and melancholic introduction – layers of synth, a regular drum beat and sparkling keynotes give the song an air of promise and hope. Take Shelter (which was the first single release back in January of this year) is an epic choral death ballad and a stirring highlight. It is central to the album’s dark themes and deals with confronting grief and coping with loss. The track opens simply and easily with a crisp, beautiful piano and the duo’s hazy, folk harmonies. “In my mind it’s all the way things were/ I remember how the family heard/ they told them everything in the house had burned/ And all that’s left will slowly fade to the earth/ In my mind it’s all the way things were/ I remember how the family heard And every night the fearful dreams emerge/ She takes her shelter like a flightless bird.”

The song’s strength lies in its chorus – blasts of all-empowering brass synth underpin a solid backbeat giving the song a grand majesty before it is carefully crafted to simple solitary piano chords at its end. Carl Coleman explains “It started with that beat and Caspar’s piano riff which felt kind of urban and like a place we hadn’t really explored yet. Then that droney vocal melody just popped straight into my head. I felt the urgency immediately and knew it was a keeper. Some songs are like pulling teeth but this one was like a light-bulb moment.”

The Ballroom is a vigorous, up-tempo track driven by guitars, rolling keys, sweeping strings and one of those songs that need to be played whilst driving on an open road with the windows rolled down. Interestingly, just when you are familiar with the energy and groove of the song, a whirlpool of swirling synth from Hesselager morphs it into a sonic vortex which adds a completely different dimension to the track. Empire is breezy and glorious – it features Palace Winter’s signature elements – Hesselager’s icy synth themes (this time with a real 80s influence) and Coleman’s Country guitars and melodies. Another key ingredient in Empire – indeed in several other tracks on Nowadays – is the refreshing string theme played by Swedish violinist Pelle Appelin adding a more organic and vintage vibe to Palace Winter’s vivid sonic soundscape. Coleman states: “It was one of the first songs we finished for the new album. We got really excited about how the organic strings felt so colourful next to the synths and guitars. I remember that the chorus happened really urgently and we just fell in love with the hook and kept jamming it all night in the studio.”

Come Back (Left Behind) like Empire has an energetic buzz – its bright synth notes and trademark jangled guitars in contrast with lyrics that dwell on the challenges of anxiety, coming to terms with the loss of a lover and feeling like you’ll never escape the fog of grief. The album continues its exploration of deeply human themes in Baltimore – a mellow folk song of suffocating love with Coleman’s distorted vocal and dusty guitar creating a psychedelic atmosphere. Demon – a song dripping in evocative electronica centres on overcoming self-doubt and fear and the cleverly combined classical/electronic Acting Like Lovers focuses on how sharing a traumatic experience can bring people closer.

Coleman lifts the distortion on his vocals for the final track Kenopsia, an eerie duet with Hesselager’s keys. Its echoey reverberations appear to bounce within an enormous space – it’s a song full of soul and spectral emptiness. Kenopsia means the “eerie, forlorn atmosphere in a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet”. It’s a fitting end to an album that is a reflection of birth, death and everything in between.

Nowadays is an album which mulls over the challenges we face just trying to be alive in the present moment in a world full of distraction. As the duo themselves say: “You can’t swipe your way to happiness – you have to lift your eyes first.” Palace Winter has made an album that, despite its dark themes about life and death combines lightness in sound hugging you with human honesty.

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