Palmbomen II: Palmbomen II
Beats in Space Records

Kai Hugo brought a crystal-clear MO to the production of his eponymous Palmbomen II full-length: “Program the rhythms, arrange the harmonies, play these together, and record to tape. That's it.” The inherent immediacy of such an approach comes through loud and clear in the album's fourteen tracks, particularly in the rawness of the production. One thing Palmbomen II definitely isn't is sanitized.

For the record, there are two Palmbomens, the first a group-oriented affair designed for live presentation and the second a comparatively hermetic solo project Hugo pursues using a mix of classic sequencers, old-school drum machines, and contemporary gear (it's not unusual for a typical Palmbomen II track to feature sound-generators like the Oberheim DX, Arp 2600, and Roland TR-909). In keeping with the insular tone of the project, Hugo recorded the album material in the attic of his mother's home in Breda, The Netherlands. The music flowed forth rapidly, with Hugo sometimes tracking as many as four songs per day during his summer-long attic sessions; by the time he'd finished, the fourteen pieces selected for the album were but a small portion of the total number produced.

A key inspiration for the album was Hugo's binge-watching of The X-Files, a connection that's evident in track titles such as “Mary Louise Lefante,” “Teena Mulder,” “John Lee Roche,” and “Peter Tanaka” (all of them characters in the TV series) and in the ‘90s sci-fi vibe that infuses the material. Though the tracks were recorded in Holland, the material exudes a strong West Coast feel in keeping with Hugo's status as an LA resident, and there are moments when the rain and fog of the show's Vancouver shooting location seeps into the album tracks.

Such connections are instantly evident when Hugo frames the opening “Peter Tanaka” with seagull cries and more generally in the material's mellow aura. Throughout the recording, woozy synths regularly warble and pitch-shift in a manner suggestive of drug-induced hallucinations, and lo-fi drum machine beats keep up a constant and at times buoyantly funky shuffle alongside the blurry textures and sunny melodies. Hugo flirts with wonky riffs on disco and techno during the jaunty “Vic Trevino,” evokes a pastoral island paradise in the vignette “Caitlin Ross,” and digs into breezy tribal-funk for “John Lee Roche.”

It wouldn't be too far off the mark to speak of Palmbomen II in the same breath as Hieroglyphic Being (something especially understandable when a wiry track such as “Samuel Aboah” works itself into an acid-techno lather), Boards Of Canada, and Oneohtrix Point Never, and it also wouldn't be pushing things too far to hear Palmbomen II as some tripped-out fusion of the three.

January 2016