This is a review of "Still EP" recorded by Palo Alto. The review was written by Sarah Bradley in 2002.
Now here's something you don't get very often - a band who like indie music but don't sound like The Stone Roses or Oasis. Hats off to Palo Alto, then, who clearly get their influences from the days when bands all had degrees and long fringes that hung in front of their faces - you know what I'm talking about - the early nineties.
The easiest comparison to draw is with The Sundays, which is probably a bit lazy of me. Immediately I should hold my hands up and say I don't know what I'm talking about, but I guess this band also own records by the likes of Lush, Moose and Chapterhouse.
The song that sounded most like The Sundays to me was 'Don't Shoot' with its ethereal vocals and backing voices that sounded like they were recorded in a big old church. This song displays what Palo Alto do best - build textures through clever use of guitar and extra vocal parts. It's a bit spoilt by the murky sound of the guitars, meaning that the song ends up sounding muddy and not shimmery, which is how it should be. All the same, it's like being sung to by a very tuneful, kindly ghost.
'Folding' is probably the best song on this EP, slowly er... enfolding the listener in a web built from the drums up. This is also the rockin'est song, with the singer yodelling at you like you've spilt her pint and she won't stand for it. This also makes a good contrast from the previous song, 'Shattered', where the vocals sound uncertain - a bit like Chrissie Hynde without the bollocks. 'Folding' reminds me oddly of a goth ballad, but don't take that the wrong way, because it's good. The other thing about Palo Alto which makes them ace is that they don't rely too heavily on guitar effects. Nothing is ever lost in all the functions you get in a Zoom pedal, so gold star to them.
'Fallout' is groovier, featuring the high choirboy style singing that was also used on 'Don't Shoot'. This song also features the use of a cowbell - sold! The only problem is, when the vocals stray below a certain range, they get lost in amongst the guitar. Then the vocal ends up being used as an instrument instead of being the main focus of attention.
The weak songs are 'Shattered' and 'Still', which is odd, as the band have opted to use them as the opening and closing tracks, respectively. 'Shattered' is weak because of the unsteady vocals, and 'Still' because of the lack of intricacy which has thus far been the strong point. 'Still' sees Palo Alto strumming a song which has a quiet start and then - shock horror! - a loud bit. Disturbingly, it's also got a bit of tune nicked out of 'Shoo-be-do' by Madonna, and has use of that annoying loudspeaker vocal effect James and Garbage use. It's an anticlimax that the EP should end this way.
That's just two small quibbles about a refreshing EP which displays a unique sound and twinkly ideas. Palo Alto stand out in the wash of drivel which passes for indie these days... they're like a silver milk bottle top floating in a puddle.