Review: Palace Play God And Challenge Death In 'Life After'


10/10

I am not a religious person by any means. I do not know what to expect after death, and I don't know if there is even anything after this life. But if there is something I know, it's that Palace's new album Life After is the closest I have ever been to God.

After their 2016 debut So Long Forever, the London-based band came back at the beginning of this month with another stunning record: Life After. In eleven songs, Palace was able to paint a very vivid picture of an out-of-body experience, moving swiftly through theatrical sounds that are enhanced even more by technicalities, such as reverb and loops. The first track, which gives the name to the album, is one of the most effective opening songs I have ever come across: it starts with a powerful guitar riff that is broken down by a smooth and comforting voice that accompanies the song and makes it more intense yet more intimate:


After she's gone / and you're fragile like porcelain / I've been writing this song / to help you breathe again

It is the kind of song that you cry to but at the same time that you would want to witness live in an arena.

There's life after death, and there's breath when you're gone...
The topic of the song - which carries the whole album's weight on its shoulders - is loss. It gives hope and it restores the hearts. The theme is also helped by the gorgeous beginning of the second track, "Berlin." The drums resonate so much with the echoed harmonies in the background, reminiscent of a religious environment, and it is probably one of the most stable tracks on the album, as Leo Wyndham's vocal performance is practically flawless. It has an ominous meaning, lyrically, in contrast with the fulfilling instrumental: "I'm not religious, but I'm afraid."

Don't make me count my blessings, you'll make me die confessing.
Talking about confessing, an epiphany is reached in the third song, "Younger." It recalls the good times where everyone was younger and more naive. We used to see the world with different eyes. Hurt and hatred were foreign concepts. An enthralling guitar plays in the back, creating a vortex of loops with Leo's voice, making it a very nice rock ballad. But life goes on, and so does this album.
"Face in the Crowd" is an acoustic and eccentric ballad resonates through the speakers. An elaborate classic guitar plays alongside some strings and Wyndham's glorious vocals. It is a love declaration that talks about how necessary the sight of someone loved is: "you'd steal the light from the day." Exploding in a mixture of sounds at the end, the song gives space to the fifth track, "Caught my Breath," that could be considered part of the holy trinity of Life After, alongside "Martyr" and "All In My Stride." Personally, I have never heard anything like this song. The start is fresh and strong, with perfectly embedded guitars and drums that give body and structure to the song. A pounding chorus is enriched by what sounds like haunting trumpets and some synths; this vocal performance reaches the peak on the bridge, then opening up in another refrain, taking the song by the hand and ending it with a dry and delicate guitar strumming.

Brave the breaking waves you say you've swum, steal ourselves as slaves until we're none

The transition to "Martyr" is perfect; I cannot really describe it in any other way. It opens up in a groovy melody with jazzy drums and a lively vocal phrasing. It has one of the most satisfying song resolutions I have ever heard. This song is a cycle, opening up about a previous toxic relationship. It becomes relatable and personal, letting the listener dive in the personal lives of the talented lead singer. The rhythmic division of the song's structure is very original too, it never gets boring or repetitive; Palace was able to make it interesting through amazing guitar solos and vocal bridges.

Out of the blaze, I dive into the golden sky, under the violent you. Friend of the dark, she said, black out the spark, I'm dead. Knife in the tongue, so cruel...
"All in my Stride" is probably my favorite track off the album. Starting with a heavy guitar reverb, the song continues with the most honest vocal delivery. Leo Wyndham described this song as a "note to self." It is a living testament. His artistic will.
And make this shadow in the mirror I see release me to the waves please...
The intensity of the song increases during the chorus and then becomes calm again. In the second chorus, subtle pounding drums play, but they are muffled, overshadowed by echoed vocals and guitars.

I have never listened to anything like this. Palace's sounds are from another world. They are comforting, haunting, deceiving, and draining all at the same time. But a positive note is reached on "No Other." The four-piece-band established a strong presence in the industry, helped by their innovative minds and set of ideas. If I had to pick one weak song on the album it would probably be "No Other," simply because I believe it is a transition song meant to alleviate the weight of the meaningfulness of the rest of the album.

Lit up my mind with the words that you spoke to me, settle my time with your presence in this cage that you broke for me. And I'll see you someday soon...

The perfect indie song is embodied by the ninth track, "Running Wild." It is a coming-of-age tune that lifts the listeners' souls and makes the average beat of the album slightly higher. It reminds me of Arctic Monkeys and DMA'S, but Palace have their own unique identity that has no smudges or breaking points, and it is perfectly visible in Life After.

The penultimate song, "Bones," is a delicate stripped-down song. It anticipates the final song, and it is the first step toward the ultimate epiphany:
skin to my skin we found God, but not in the face of the Lord
The lyrics of this song are quite cryptic. It could be about how love is the motor of everything we do and we have to free ourselves from toxic and problematic relationships if we want to find God, or our inner selves, if they are even two separate things. This song rocks the listener like a newborn in its mother's arms; the cellos in the background only help augment the feelings, and the almost linear structure gives a sense of home. The strings at the end really raise the bar. It is classy and sophisticated of Palace to stay in their lane and not risk it - under a certain point of view. As I always say: simplicity sometimes is better than overdoing.

Thought I'd found my last future one, but found it in ashes of the sun...
The last song comes quickly, and it is safe to say that it is the closest thing to "seeing the light" I will ever experience. Starting with gorgeous synths and guitar echoes, "Heaven Up There" breaks the listener when Leo chimes in with equally beautiful vocals. I am not going to lie: it is probably one of the most stunning songs I have ever listened to. It is the perfect closing song. It closes the circle flawlessly in an explosion of emotions that I had no idea existed. Palace channeled all the existentialism and life into a single seven-minute-long song and waited through ten songs before revealing it to the world.
When I hear my song, will the grave be near?
The singing is absolutely immaculate, and the lyrics are even more.

We all wonder where we end up after we die, and Palace made it a song. The harmonies kill me. The perception of sound varies from person to person, but this song is exactly what I was waiting for in my life. How many times have we thought back on our past, and how many times could we say we are happy with it? But there is nothing to be afraid of because if this is what is waiting for us in the afterlife, then it is comforting to know that beauty resists also death. There is so much thought and philosophy behind this record, and it is important to remember that we are so small in front of religion just as much as we are in front of music.

I'm no force of God, I'm a thousand lies. I take what I want, 'cause I'm the frightening sky. I'm a selfish man, designed to die...

There is no "us," and there is no "them." We are all living the same life, breathing the same air, and searching for the same answers. In Life After, Palace made Heaven touchable and death a lost comfort. Palace played God and succeeded. Palace crafted and created the perfect album and they didn't even realize it: this is the true meaning of music.

Believe in the existence spent to separate us from them, to know that your blood runs thin is to live with the truth within. So scrape the bruise I wear and eradicate all my fears. Prepare me to walk these stairs, I don't know what my future is.

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