A cold jungle isn’t an image that you’d normally think of, unless you wanted a phrase that was on the verge of being an oxymoron. But that’s what comes to mind when you take in the cover of Pallers’ debut album, The Sea of Memories. In fairness though, it’s the colour that makes it cold (the presence of parrots and flowering plants aren’t something to be expected in an Arctic location). The wash of frosty blues and dark outlines create a feeling that seems detached from the stereotypical tropical sunshine of a jungle. And while the music on The Sea of Memories might not resemble a jungle of any sort, the Swedish duo certainly have the chilly feeling running through the entirety of their record.
Much like the prominent colours on the cover, the majority of the songs here seem washed over with cold synths, which can go from sounding like freezing winds on a dark night (“The Sound of Silence”) to the downcast gloominess of a late autumn afternoon (“Nights”). And this consistency makes the album feel like more of a whole, even if that whole is a rather saddening one. The duo of opening tracks, “Another Heaven” and “Humdrum,” feels more like an introduction to Pallers’ downcast world than any sort of brash opening statement. The former of those tracks almost teases the ear with light melodies that skirt about in the opening minute, before vocalist Johan Angergård comes into the picture and wipes them all away, leaving him with just silence, like’s he clearing away any distractions to just try make sense of his thoughts.
And Angergård’s lyrical style doesn’t stray much from this sort of close introspection – but if it does, he’s still fixated by the past. On album centrepiece “The Kiss” the subject is matter is much as the title suggests and has Angergård quietly obsessing over a kiss that might actually have not really been a kiss. “If it wasn’t a kiss / then I don’t know what it was” he sings. There’s a moment where he repeats the last three words in an almost desolate manner but by the time the next line comes around his voice has lifted like it’s both trying to be optimistic and sing through tears. It’s an easy comparison but Angergård can come across as clearer and, at times, lighter version of Johan Duncanson of The Radio Dept.; similarly using past memories as a source to feed off of, creating, if anything, his own lyrical jungle to get lost in (perhaps in a somewhat cathartic sense, to feel better about everything he might be singing about).
But despite its languid gloominess, the duo still have plenty to offer that has more appeal than just being something to lounge about in when in a low mood. The low-light warmth of “Years Go, Days Pass” offers a hazy chorus but it’s still appealing while “Come Rain, Come Sunshine” seems to even break free from the icy reigns of its surroundings with a chirpy Nintendo-like synth line and hopeful slow-burning vocal melodies. Aforementioned track “The Kiss” also puts itself into a warmer light about half way through when the additional drums kick in and a guitar line adds an additional human touch to the song. The most shocking track though (and I use the term “shocking” with some exaggeration) is the penultimate one, entitled “Wicked.” On it, Angergård casts himself to the side and instead vocal duties are taken on by welcome guest Elise Zalbo, who both manages to fit in perfectly to the cold synths and break free from the constraints they might hold. “I don’t care about getting sunlight” she sings, determined to rise above any sadness on even the darkest winter night. Musically the track is also somewhat daring, teasing with trance-like bursts of energy.
Moments like “Wicked” are ones that make Pallers a promising act, hinting at possible stylistic ventures for the future. The murky cinematic ambience of “Sound of Silence” makes it easy to imagine the band working on film soundtracks (or just making an eerie ambient record) while the brief chirpy melodies on “Tropical Fishbowl” show the band can make something relatively interesting with live instruments.
If they do, however, continue on the same path they’ve explored on The Sea of Memories, it doesn’t make for an unpromising future. Despite its melancholic vibe, the album is strangely alluring. I like to think of it as the negative to the opposingly sunnier album The Heart of The Nightlife by Californian duo Kisses, but it could be contrasted or compared to any other Balearic acts that might or might not have come from Scandinavia. While I might have made the album out to be something near enough depressing, The Sea of Memories isn’t a “sad” album in the typical sense. It’s the kind of record best fitted for when you’re unsure as to what to listen to or when you’ve got an autumn or winter evening to yourself. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit, think and even reminisce. But be careful you don’t get too sucked into your own memories – it can be a jungle in there.