The Cincinnati band Heart of Palm last came our way with the Psychopomp CDR, released on a UK label; Mayonnaise is a professionally pressed CD and even has a barcode printed on the back – even if there’s no evidence of a proper “label” behind it. It’s a pretty uncompromising barrage of darkly psychedelic improvised rock mayhem, the real stuff of bad dreams and night sweats, laid out for us to endure with no apologies. The core trio of Mike Hancock, Jay Wilson and William Davidson are here, but now they’re joined by a new drummer Jason Short who had been with them for two years when we received this package. And there’s also Karl Uchtmann who brought along his keyboards, and is doing bizarre things with circuit bending. If you’re a regular reader, you may know we have a lot of time for this highly creative band who always – not unlike Sun City Girls – seem to be doing something different with every release. I think they must work hard, practice, and play a lot. They describe themselves going through a “glacially paced metamorphosis from strictly improvisational to half improv, half songs” in their recording sessions, although it seems that Mayonnaise – mostly recorded in late 2012 – was all derived from improvised sessions.
Heart Of Palm are working more or less in a “rock” context, insofar as there’s usually a steady drum beat and conventional rock instruments like guitars, bass and keyboards are involved. But they are very strong, particularly on this release, at disguising and mutating their normal sound, perhaps through using FX pedals or post-processing, so that just about everything in the mix produces an abnormal effect of some sort. The players get so squelched up and muddified here that the aggregated sound they make can border on being grotesque and ugly, but if your stomach turns, you’ve only got to wait a few seconds before it morphs into a more approachable sensation. Besides the far-out sound, you’ve got the uncanny group dynamics, and this could be the real secret weapon of Heart Of Palm, mainly because it’s pretty much impossible to figure out who is doing what, or how they are arriving at it. This is the kind of malformed whackery that could only arise from group playing, doing it “in the moment”, and keeping at it; nobody could ever dream of arranging or pre-planning this sort of sickened, glorpy noise, and the best HOP can do is create a collaborative situation where the cobras are likely to rise from the stone floors beneath, leaving everyone to get busy with clubs and broomsticks. From this I deduce the third arrow in their quiver is selection and editing, so that they only pick out and publish the juiciest moments from these queasy and demented playing sessions, which were hopefully performed late at night and in a studio where the walls are painted red.
This is all good, and while I always like to shower effusive praises on Heart Of Palm, yet I harbour some slight reservations about this album. It feels samey and unstructured, even a tad unfinished in places. When I first heard their work some years ago, I could hear exciting possibilities in the music; it was as though a song could go almost anywhere, it was so unpredictable and open. Mayonnaise is more static, and closed-off; it’s like a dozen or so snapshots from an insomniac’s photo album, all of which are fascinating pathological studies rendered in rich and strange colours, but they don’t develop much, nor provide any further revelations as they conclude. It’s very hard to say how or where, but the band seemed to have got stuck in a loop for this record. Even so I hope to hear some semi-composed songs on the next release. From 15 April 2014.