1987 was a great year for synthpop. The Pet Shop Boys’ “It’s a Sin” spent three weeks at number one in the UK, When In Rome broke into the US top twenty with their only hit “The Promise”, Depeche Mode stepped up their game considerably by releasing the dark masterpiece Music for the Masses, and New Order dropped what would become their most well-known single “True Faith”. Whether intentional or not, everything about Painted Palms’ album Horizons screams 1987, including the cover art, which features a computer-generated sculpture that would have looked completely at home in a slick frame on the wall of a Los Angeles gym thirty years ago.
Cousins Christopher Prudhomme and Reese Donohue abandon the experimental styles they dabbled in on their earliest EPs and instead aim for the dance floor on their sophomore LP. The majority of songs on Horizons are mid-tempo danceable numbers. Every track follows a similar recipe of pulsing, stop-start drum programming infused with light synth washes, cascading “ahs”, and Prudhomme’s Howard Jones-esque vocal stylings. There aren’t any surprises here and that’s unfortunate. The two strongest songs on the album are “Gemini” which deviates slightly from the aforementioned formula by pulling back tempo-wise and including a pleasant, unexpected bridge, and “Painkiller”, that as the title suggests is moodier musically, slightly more subversive lyrically, and features an appropriate-sounding electric guitar.
Second full-length albums can be tricky. Painted Palms play it safe on Horizons with mixed results. Fans of the duo no doubt know the cousins are capable of producing more daring, forward-thinking music. Fortunately, Painted Palms are still comparatively young, and time is on their side. 1987 was a great year for music, and the aforementioned artists did a damn fine job of creating a soundtrack that sounded and felt new and exciting at that time. But we’re a long way from 1987, and the proverbial pond of retro danceable synthpop has been fished. Hopefully, Painted Palms reexamine their discography and draw inspiration from the more esoteric offerings of their recent past in order to deliver a more eclectic and thoughtful collection of songs on forthcoming releases.