What can you do with 17 minutes of music? In that short amount of time, My Bloody Valentine made one of the most iconic statements in shoegaze music with You Made Me Realise. Jay Electronica’s cinematic magnum opus Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge) clocks in just under this mark. And of course, Iron Butterfly set a new standard for psychedelic extravagance with the singular 17-minute song ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’.
To make a full artistic statement in just 17 minutes may seem like a constraint – and to some degree, it is – but it is certainly not an excuse.
When Fake Smiles begins, it breathes for just a moment and then explodes. A thick barrage of guitars and drums jumps to the forefront of ‘Life for Me’, joined by an energetic vocal hook that’s easy to imagine bringing a whole stadium to its feet. By the time this moment fades, the bare-bones staccato of the verse is already underway.
While there are moments of nice melody and songwriting, all five of these tracks fill essentially the same niche and stray very little from the cliches of pop-punk and melodic metalcore. The production often finds the vocals losing fidelity to the other instruments, which eclipse the singer’s energy by so much.
The best-built song here is ‘NVRB’, which fills itself to the brim with good ideas that fit together perfectly. The story is told from the perspective of a womanizer who can’t bring himself to stop playing hearts and tell it like it is. It’s got a true earworm of a guitar riff with a chorus that complements it well. Its predecessor ‘Without Her’, though it leans a little heavy into pop tropes, is similarly catchy and charming.
Throughout Fake Smiles, Palmist proves their mastery at writing good choruses, but are unable to give up their over-reliance on syncopation and the same lyrical themes about bitter love. The chugging, mathy guitar rhythms at the end of ‘Freefall’ feel like they’re supposed to be a climactic moment, but I’ve heard this same idea done way too many times.
Fake Smiles is worth a shot for anyone who can’t get enough pop in their alternative metal. The songwriting here is more serviceable than not. All five members of Palmist are clearly talented musicians, but sometimes it feels like they belong in five different bands.