“Fifties girl group crooning and echo chamber drums, ’60s wall of sound, ’70s California canyon sway, ’80s laser-sharp production, ’90s alt-country twang, Aughts vocal callbacks from Neko Case to Jenny Lewis to Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast. … Cherry-picks from 50 years of influences.”
In the wake of coverage at NPR’s All Songs Considered, The Village Voice, Paste, CMJ, PopMatters and many other tastemaking outlets, Sydney Eloise & the Palms have finally released their critically acclaimed debut LP, Faces (available now on LP & CD from The Cottage Recording Co., and on cassette from Bear Kids Recordings). The new group also just received a glowing 4-star review from Creative Loafing, and has been compared by the music press to a stunning list of iconic artists and indie-press darlings including Jenny Lewis, Natalie Prass, George Harrison, Neko Case, Best Coast, Phil Spector and Fleetwood Mac.
Sydney Eloise & The Palms embarked on their first tour this October with a bon-voyage hometown album-release show at Mass Collective in Atlanta, followed by a sprint up the East Coast, including a stopover at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York.
From the opening “Be My Baby”-style drumbeat and retro-modern psychedelic swirls of lead track “Always Sailing,” Faces is searching and bittersweet, a classic-pop meditation from the visionary twentysomething next door. A vivid sonic slide-show carousel of a record, its mix of words and music paint tiny, episodic masterpieces in technicolor.
Sydney Eloise is at once catalyst, vessel and torchbearer. With her close friends and collaborators—co-producers Damon Moon and Chandler Galloway—she spent an entire year building and rebuilding Faces in the studio until it felt just right, the end result a delicate ship in a bottle of Fernet-Branca, a charming contemporary pastiche that draws tastefully from every decade of recorded music since the 1950s, right up ’til the present day. Inside the record’s lush layers of daydreamy sound, you’ll find a musical education—’50s “Earth Angel” balladry, Phil Spector-style Walls of Sound, heady ’60s psych pop, ’70s Laurel Canyon country dusted with post-Beatles George Harrison sonics, unmistakable Fleetwood Mac-isms and crystalline ABBA-style pop, subtle ’80s production flourishes, glistening ’90s-alt country and ’00s indie pop a la Neko Case and Rilo Kiley. Layers upon layers, worlds within worlds—visions of boot-clad go-go girls shimmying in perfect beehive mini-skirt bliss in a snow globe inside of a snow globe inside of a snow globe.
Working with more or less unlimited access to Moon’s recording studio, The Cottage, Sydney Eloise had time on her side with this new record. She’d bring in the skeleton of a song, and then together with Moon and Galloway, would see how much they could not just flesh it out, but dress it up and accessorize it. “There wasn’t a real timeline so we never felt rushed,” Sydney Eloise says. “We didn’t have the pressure to just live with the first decision we made—there was time to experiment.”
“Faces is rooted in classic pop traditions, but we took it beyond that whenever possible,” Galloway says. “Each sound was a color in the palette—sparse acoustic guitar, recording with the tape at half speed then speeding it up, looping an old optical soundtrack disc in the background, arranging a subtle nine-part vocal arrangement on the fly. Working at The Cottage gave us the freedom to try these things. There’s no way this record would have turned out the same if we did it anywhere else.”
A cozy stone-walled carriage house at the end of a long driveway on an otherwise sleepy street in Sydney Eloise’s hometown of Atlanta, The Cottage was essential to the making of Faces. A far cry from the sterile environs of a typical recording studio, it boasts a laid-back vibe, with a rope swing in the yard and a thick patch of forest out back that hides an abandoned rock quarry—a great place to clear your head between takes.
When the sessions for Faces began, there were no grand plans to make an album, just a few friends from the vibrant Atlanta scene getting together to play some music. But when, on a lark, Sydney Eloise, Moon and Galloway laid down “Always Sailing,” things began to click in a way none of them had experienced before. “After we finished that first song, we knew we had something special,” Moon says. “We felt like we owed it to ourselves to put in the time and effort to see what it might become.”
Over the course of a year, they recorded the core instrumentation of the tracks, occasionally bringing in simpatico local musicians to sweeten the sound—folks like Paul Stevens (Grand Vapids), Jenna Shea Mobley (Book Club) and Matt Jarrard (Royal Thunder, Spirits and the Melchizedek Children).
Thematically, this very personal record’s dozen songs deal heavily with the changing perspectives, personal growth and self-discovery that come during one’s 20s. “The songs on Faces were written over a period of four years,” Sydney Eloise explains. “Some were old and some were written two weeks before the album was mastered. There’s a lot of growing up in them. And because of the wide time span, sometimes I’m singing about the same event or subject I address in another song but with a completely different perspective because it was a different time in my life.”
A prime example is “Sorry, Not Sorry,” about a past relationship with someone who takes you for granted. It’s a song that breathes so much life, feeling, depth and sincerity into an otherwise vapid modern hashtag colloquialism. “For me, ‘Sorry, Not Sorry,’ is about seeing what you’re worth, letting go of the past and taking the power back. Like a lot of songs on this record, writing it made me stronger.”
For Sydney Eloise, who’s been playing music since she was 16, Faces represents tremendous personal and artistic growth. “I feel like I’m just tapping into myself as a musician, just now honing my sound and my voice,” she says. “This is the first project I’ve worked on where I was pushed to the limit, and I could see my full potential blossoming. I’ve been waiting for this moment—this record truly represents who I am, where I am, and how much work I put in leading up to it. I feel like I’m meant to be here, now, with these people, my best friends, doing exactly this.”