After living out the dream of everyone crafting retro-styled synth pop in their bedrooms or on their laptops, Painted Palms have taken a step forward on their second full-length album, 2015's Horizons. Previously, Reese Donohue and Christopher Prudhomme worked in their homes and exchanged their work by e-mail even when they were living in the same city, slowly but surely crafting their pop-leaning electronic music on their own. For Horizons, however, they opted not only to work in an actual recording studio, but even to hire an engineer, Eric Broucek, who is part of the DFA Records studio crew and recorded several LCD Soundsystem releases. To the surprise of nobody, Horizons sounds noticeably more polished than Painted Palms' previous releases, which is no drawback for synth-based music, though the occasional bursts of guitar and the more lo-fi aspects of the group's sound have fallen by the wayside this time out. The melodic structures on Horizons have a less organic sound and feel than they did on 2014's Forever; these songs owe their greatest allegiance to pop, but the dominant influence appears to be vintage synth pop from the '70s and '80s as filtered through contemporary EDM (though without the aggressive percussive elements that command the listener to hit the dancefloor). Horizons is brilliantly executed, with Donohue and Prudhomme giving this music the right balance of outer sheen and inner passion to make it work, as well as filling the tracks with lyrics and loops that cleverly point to past and present. But even though Painted Palms have made Horizons into a brilliant-sounding record, the expert realization of this music sounds a bit cooler and less personal than the music Donohue and Prudhomme created for Forever and their first EPs. The machines Painted Palms have brought into the studio can sound soulful and alive, but they don't always pass that test on this album.
by Mark Deming