Fresh Stream

Palberta – Roach Goin’ Down


To listen to Palberta is to listen to a band that is expertly in-sync. It comes from a peripheral eye that I’ve kept on them for a long time. It’s to hear something other than harmony – which, in any technical sense, is way beyond me anyhow.

They’re DIY Veterans, members of a history of great bills. They’re an underground band by definition, but one who is comfortably transcendental & has held down a distinctive sound that isn’t monotonous or self-parodying. There’s a niche they’ve carved out for themselves; a unique sound that’s some parts some parts erratic, some parts logical. Some parts free-wheeling and some parts expertly honed.

Through the years I’ve known about Palberta, I’ve seen three people who are truly in a band. Of course, I can’t speak to what it’s like to be Palberta, but I know what it’s like to be in the audience of one of their shows. It’s the experience of seeing a group meld exactly with their music. It’s seeing the members match their gestures and demeanor exactly to the sounds they’re expelling; twitching, jumping and working their instruments like they were all formed in the same musical womb.

It’s not harmony- but rather that very congruity that carries through Roach Goin’ Down, released in June by Wharf Cat. It’s that hurky-jerky-made-sensible, like watching a foley artist transform a bunch of utensils into footsteps, bugs teeming, birds flying.

We’re not talking about a band made for passive listening; their synchronisity takes on a new manifestation with each track. And while there’s definitely that overarching Palberta-ness, they’re capable of a near-athletic ability to jump about within that. Like the track Cross It Out, where they weave their vocals in and out and around, a stimulation of both eardrums. Something navigable like the stereo in Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Or the song Cherry Baby, which comes after a stretch of anxious and plucky sounds. It’s a more smoothed-out track, not quite soft but with a fresher pavement. They show off their ability to wash all their voices into one, to reel in the clamor.

What results is ethereal.

That changeability is what I love about Palberta. It also relates, in a larger sense, to their relationship with punk. There’s a fixation on the existence (and non-existence) of non-men within the genre almost makes me want to avoid the topic entirely. But throughout Roach Goin’ Down you hear that trademark Palberta sneer. And the sneer is, of course, a cornerstone of punk and its aesthetes; think Lydon and Levene’s interview on the Tom Snyder Show.

But when you listen to Roach, you don’t hear punk being made for punk’s sake. And you don’t hear a non-male band making self-consciously non-male music. There’s no aversion to beauty or mess. The angst is present but not defining, often not so traceable to anything obvious. Sonically, I’m reminded of the Slits, but maybe because of the progress of such precursors, Palberta isn’t a band inclined to be so heavy-handed as Typical Girls. Instead, you get an energy. You get a response in heartrate a maybe blood pressure. In my case, I get a lot of questions, like is Palberta trying to emulate a panic attack?

I’m not even going to throw my hat into the ring and declare Palberta punk. I’m not going to speculate or assign a subject to whatever derision I’m sensing. Maybe laughing at you, or the world, or music writers trying to put together a bunch of words. Like I said, I don’t know what it’s like to be Palberta.

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