Sean Palm: Days On End
Railyard Recordings

Tracks Without End might be more like it, based on the nine generously-timed cuts that make up Sean Palm's seventy-six-minute collection. And if that's not enough, there's a second disc where Palm refashions the album material into a “Continuous Poolside Atmosphere Mix.” But, in this case, such largesse is totally welcome when Days On End so consistently hits the sweet spot, even if its subtleties could lead the caual listener to underappreciate the material's superior quality. Palm brings over fifteen years of experience to his debut full-length on Railyard Recordings, the New York-based label he co-founded with Matt Xavier in 2005, and it shows in the entrancing house rhythms that animate tracks teeming with synthetic sparkle, drifting melodies, and seaside atmosphere.

Despite its status as dance music, Days On End's understated sound design is best appreciated via headphones. Opener “Silent Storm,” for example, is filled with all manner of detail—subliminal wave crests, owly burble, bubbly melodic interweaves, percussive touches—that would likely go unnoticed if the track were heard in a typically raucous club setting. Call it minimal if you wish but don't dismiss it for being so: deeply reverberant tracks like “Silent Storm” and “Polyphonic” are impeccably-crafted exemplars of the form that insinuate themselves into your ear canals in potent manner. Palm sequences the tracks so that the recording grows progressively more energetic until it culminates, halfway through, in the splendour of “Lost in the Bronx” and “Days On End.” The former rises slowly with a standard minimal house pulse but blossoms beautifully when breathy voice accents and handclaps appear, fleshing out the sound in what becomes one of the album's most exuberant and clubby outings, while the latter's tech-house groove gallops spiritedly, its chattering drum machines occasionally spiked with acid droplets. In the penultimate track “Drumatrix,” percolating percussive patterns bounce alongside burbling drum rhythms and wisps of synthesizer melodies, after which “10 Years Later” takes the album out with an epic, ten-minute ride laden with congas and lush atmosphere.

The second disc is included as a presumed “bonus” but, in actual fact, it offers the more satisfying presentation of the album material, simply because the music hits harder in the mix form and Palm's atmospheric style lends itself well to an uninterrupted, long-form delivery. Anyone feeling that the conventional presentation is a tad too polite should turn to the mix disc instead as the tracks are the same but Palm boosts their impact with the heartbeat of insistent kick drums and escalates the atmospheric design too. There's a beautiful spring in the mix disc's step that argues strongly on its behalf. It's easy to imagine a listener passing on Days On End and dismissing it as “just another minimal” release, and one arriving late in the game at that. Closer listening suggests that that would be a shame because, whatever its minimal connections, the release remains a wonderfully-crafted labour of love.

September 2009