We’re not going to lie: the brisk staccato harpsichord and swiftly marching hi-hat that greets you at the opening of Archpalatine‘s new single make for a truly bizarre introduction.
Not so much bizarre because it’s an unheard-of style — the influence here is pure classical, operatic even, which has obviously been kicking around for centuries — but weird because who else is making pop music this theatrical in 2019? Is it the resurgence in Queen interest following the hotly-contentious Bohemian Rhapsody biopic? Is it something that’s always been there, lingering on the fringes, that moves towards the center from time to time? Is that person holding a broadsword, and if so, why?
The person is question is singer and keys player Derek Anthony Wilson, who formally debuted the project last year under the name Palatine, with an LP called Peter. On that record, Wilson veered towards slow rock and R&B ballads with an avant-garde sensibility, not unlike Leonard Cohen or the heralded UK singer-songwriter Benjamin Clementine. For their new release, Amalgam, Wilson renamed the band Archpalatine (“like a bishop becoming an archbishop,” as the band’s bio says), and expanded its scope.
The aforementioned “Turbulence” is a propulsive rocker, with Wilson stretching the song title out over several beats — “Tuh-huh-huh-huh-HUH-huh-hurb-u-LENCE” — only to do it again and again. This is a singer who can do vocal runs like nobody’s business, and also turn them into massive earworms once his full band — drummer Eric Allenson, backing vocalist Anthony Pompey and bassist Ben High — joins the fray. The song seems to be about a no-risk-no-reward approach to life, using the act of flight, and its clash between danger and euphoria, as the central metaphor. The verse barrels along, while the pre-chorus steps back and builds, with Wilson stretching his voice from a baritone chest boom all the way up a dang-near alto falsetto. It’s a three-and-a-half minute jam, and leaves you unsure what hit you, but you’re totally eager to go back to the start and find out.
Wilson eased his band into action over the past year, using the open mic series at Manayunk’s Grape Room as a proving grounds, and elsewhere on Amalgam they prove adept at brooding soul rock (“Fire” and its echoes of Hozier) and slap-bass deep funk (the wandering “Ring Ring”). Not all pegs necessarily fit easily into their respective holes (“Hazy” is forced into something of a light reggae shape, while it might be better served as a more straightforward pop song) but it’s a robust range of sounds that keeps the listener on their toes, and Archpalatine will celebrate the project’s release with a gig at Dawson Street Pub in Manauynk on Friday, March 8th More information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar; listen to “Turbulence” below.
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