In order to enjoy this double album, one needs to be in it for the long haul. A cup of coffee helps, and a suspense novel is perfect. Palace is tensed, coiled, continually ready to strike, but prolongs the tension until it reaches pivotal points. The tracks are based on improvisations from the reunited trio of Aidan Baker, Andrea Belfi and Erik Skodvin (B/B/S/), and yes, that extra back slash is pesky). Even after some whittling, the ten tracks total 80 minutes, operating as a monolithic organism, morphing along with the performers.
Palace manages to sustain its mood throughout, letting in occasional notes of light but preferring to remain in the shadows, in the same way that the artists prefer to be represented by single initials. One might call this sonic noir, in that the bass, drums and drone-stuffed electronics conjure images of dark, slick streets and even darker alleyways, in which danger lurks with bloodshot eyes. The waiting is key, as this malevolence is extremely patient; hours may pass before the perfect victim stumbles by. The conclusion of “Butcher Note” sound like a rattlesnake; doom is near.
In some of the shorter tracks, the mood turns pensive; out of context, one might even interpret “Linber” is a slice of soothing ambience. But like the best suspense films, Palace needs such moments in order to create contrast. “LA Mom” (despite its unintimidating title) explodes out of “Linber” with arms and drums akimbo, squawking and squelching its way to near-cacaphony before settling in once again.
The second slab is much quieter, beginning with a percussion solo from Belfi and leading to a restrained triptych that lasts nearly half an hour. But of course such a break can’t last; “Combuh” concludes the set, building but not breaking, introducing electronics that sound like creaky doors, holding resolution tantalizingly out of reach. The trio has left us hanging, which may have been their intention: like the best indie films, Palace allows us to draw our own conclusions. (Richard Allen)