Album Review: Palberta – Palberta5000

[Wharf Cat; 2021]

When one sees Nina Ryser, Lily Konigsberg and Ani Ivry-Block – the individuals that make up Palberta – one sees the power of belief. Within their own respective projects, these three musicians have stubbornly convinced themselves they can achieve bona fide pop transcendence within even the most iconoclastic of means. It has resulted in some really good records churned out at a prolific almost assembly-line rate. Ryser releases buoyant synth-pop experimentations under her own name, whereas Ivry-Block frisks between Baba Yaga no wave punk and frayed indie rock gems under various monikers. And finally, Konigsberg unloaded a trio of stellar EPs in 2020: under her own name, with Lily and Horn Horse and as one half of bedroom pop project LILY/LUCY.

As dizzying as it is keeping up with the creative trajectory of each member, behold what happens once they coalesce as Palberta. Just think about it: a Brooklyn-based trio harnessing that shared belief of writing the best pop banger each time pen draws ink, filtering that conviction through the lens of rudimentary punk rock calisthenics akin to The Raincoats or Au Pairs. By cause and effect, albums such as 2017’s collaboration with No One And The Somebodies, Chips For Dinner, and their last album, 2018’s Roach Going Down, unfold almost in happenstance fashion rather than doing something contrived or constructed.

This approach seems deceptively simple: Ryser, Konigsberg and Ivry-Block rage out with fearless fortitude, transmuting sentiments like anxiety and heartbreak with the glee of Milhouse operating a cup-and-ball toy. Everyone in Palberta changes instruments with shrewd abandon, creating a skirmishing energy that’s not unlike a Twitter feed manifesting as a large group of people talking to themselves out loud. Darker sentiments and asinine shitposts operate on the same wavelength, adding up to something decidedly absurd and fun.

But, as fun as it is witnessing Palberta mash three different MOs operating within the three-piece rock dynamic, it’s nice to hear that new album Palberta5000 challenges that winning formula a wee bit more. Ryser, Konigsberg and Ivry-Block all have a shark’s nose for a good pop hook, and indeed, once that checkered flag waves, they waste no time harmonizing whenever said hook presents itself. Konigsberg takes point on “Big Bad Want”, which sounds like a lost cut from the aforementioned LILY/LUCY EP repurposed within a wiry post-punk framework. Ryser and Ivry-Block join the fray, repeating “Yeah / I can’t pretend what I want” until it becomes a mantra. It delineates almost any kind of relationship to a tee: though every person’s experience is different, every interaction has fleeting instances of two different minds briefly clicking in the same zone. By harmonizing in those revelatory little quips, Palberta aim to push through the discord they so naturally embrace as a band, in a way weaponizing awkwardness.

If previous albums capture Ryser, Konigsberg and Ivry-Block all taking their own wacky path to reach the finish line, Palberta5000 finds them eyeing one another from their respective lanes, making sure each of them checks out in one piece. The lyrics to the saccharine “Corner Store” appear to reflect that sentiment: the notion of feeding on each other’s strength (“I meet you anywhere you are”) for a particular moment, until everyone goes their separate ways again. People may lose each other in a physical space, but that doesn’t equate to losing track. The splintered stride of “Fragile Place” and opener “No Way” sound like they’re played live within the same room, infectiously powering through the hiccups and blemishes. The album’s 16 short and sharp songs were captured in a span of just four days, which contributes to that off-the-cuff energy.

If Palberta5000 leaves one feeling in its wake, it’s that things like anarchy, debauchery and nihilism – as comforting as they can theoretically be – aren’t fulfilling over the longer haul. Ryser, Konigsberg and Ivry-Block lock into that overlapping zone of romanticism and compassion, and it sprouts into “All Over My Face” and “Before I Got Here”, the latter adorned with Macy’s Day-styled brass flourishes.

As a collective, Palberta find a transparency and immediacy that goes beyond their music’s stylistics or niche aesthetics, catapulting each track skyward like a running gag that never gets old. Palberta5000 is a fragmented noise punk rock record that hypnotized itself into believing its pop music meant to be sung to the masses, and performed with the same kind of bluster. And really, it’s hard to imagine anything more awesome than that.