Painted Palms certainly nailed the release timing of their sophomore LP Horizons. The gooey ‘80s synth sound the San Francisco duo now traffics in hasn’t been this prevalent since the actual decade it came from. Artists like Shamir, Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen have all been praised for incorporating that trademark synth-heavy style into their music and taking it to new and exciting heights.
When a genre comes back in style, it is usually because modern musicians see a way to put a new twist on something that influenced them. Acts like Mac DeMarco and Tame Impala, for example, are taking psychedelic rock that has been around for ages, and reinventing it as something fresh and exciting. Painted Palms’ debut album Forever leaned closer to the fuzzy, psych rock side of things, and also showcased a bit more creativity from the group than its follow-up does.
On Horizons, Painted Palms replicate that ‘80s sound perfectly, but the problem too often is that they fail to make it novel and exciting. After each track ends, you can’t help but expect the band to break into a cover of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” that’s how spot-on it is. Horizons is a pleasant listen and has its share of decent songs, but it ultimately lacks a certain oomph and at times can be almost as monotonous as its interchangeable one-word song titles.
When the group does throw in a few quirks, they tend to have their most success. “Painkiller” employs a skittering drum track that works to great effect, and the faster pace of “Echoes” creates a nice dramatic tension.
Painted Palms’ first effort wasn’t a perfect record but it did show a bit more diversity. There was an equally nostalgic feel, albeit less synth pop-centric, that the band experimented with to produce some memorable tracks. Obviously Horizons is a pretty big sonic departure from that, and it doesn’t necessarily play to their strengths.
Singer Christopher Prudhomme is talented, but he doesn’t have the opportunity to showcase much range here. He’s forced into that awkward yell-sing hybrid for much of the album, in part for fear of being washed out by the waves of synths.
It’s interesting on another level that Painted Palms have crafted a record that sounds so clearly from another era, since the duo got their start making music in the most modern and disparate way possible; by sending each other short loops over email. The problem with that method is that there’s not a lot of room for spontaneity, and while it’s unclear if this record was made remotely, it certainly sounds that way. There just seems to be a spark of inventiveness missing that comes from people being in the studio together.
Mimicking a sound can be fun, and there is fun to be had throughout the 40 minutes of dance music that comprises Horizons, but there isn’t enough innovation for this to be more than a walk down memory lane. With synth pop at it’s most en vogue, it’s unlikely we’ll look back at Horizons as anything more than a blip on the radar in the genre’s resurgence.