Album Review: Color Film - Living Arrangements

There are times when I wonder if, as a lyricist and singer, Daryl Palumbo regrets lines like, “I wanna fuck you in your god’s hands when your praying bites the dust,” or, “Suck on the end of this dick that cums lead.” The former being from Palumbo’s fascinating 2004 power-pop experiment, Head Automatica; the latter taken from his main gig, the legendary post-hardcore outfit Glassjaw.

I wouldn’t say I think about Glassjaw a lot, but I do think of them quite a bit, despite the fact that I have aged out of their brand of aggressive and volatile music. I was in high school when I discovered the band, thanks to seeing a copy of their debut full-length, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Silence, at a Hot Topic, embellished with a huge sticker advertising they were on tour with the Deftones.

I was 17, and thought to myself, “Well, if they’re on tour with the Deftones, they gotta be good.”

Glassjaw was almost too much for me (truthfully they kind of still are)—though that didn’t stop me from buying their sophomore (and last) album Worship and Tribute in the summer of 2002, copping a Glassjaw t-shirt (from Hot Topic of course) or from downloading the back to back digital EPs they released in 2011—Coloring Book and Our Color Green.

Despite how off-putting Glassjaw could be at times, I was always drawn to the stark contrast in Palumbo’s aesthetic. He could be shredding his larynx, screaming for his life one minute, then using his impressive range and control to actually sing in the next.

Glassjaw went on hiatus after Worship and Tribute, and Palumbo teamed with hip-hop auteur Dan The Automator to form Head Automatica, a weird clash of electro and power pop. The group released its debut, Decadence, in the summer between my junior and senior year of college, and the album became a staple in my CD changer, soundtracking many late nights playing Super Mario Kart and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV with a group of friends.

Head Automatica fizzled out almost as quickly as it formed. Palumbo ditched Dan The Automator and shifted the band’s sound to a new wave/Elvis Costello and The Attractions vibe on its final album, Popaganda, released in 2006. The band’s Wikipedia claims a third album was recorded in 2009, and shelved indefinitely by Warner Brothers Records.

Glassjaw was revived in 2011 with a run of concerts and the two aforementioned EPs. They’ve toured sporadically since then, and continue to claim they are still working on a third full length effort, though I think, for the most part, their fans have given up hope.

Apparently not one to sit still for too long, Palumbo has concocted yet another side project, Color Film, with Head Automatica multi-instrumentalist Richard Penzone. Formed over five years ago, the duo has just released its debut effort under the Color Film moniker—Living Arrangements.

Color Film is, much like Glassjaw, another project about contrasts and juxtapositions. I played a song off of Living Arrangements for a co-worker of mine, and he liked it, but was a little weirded out by how mathematical (his words, not mine) the music was, and then how Palumbo’s vocals fit in (just barely) over the top of it all.

Driven by herky jerky post-punk bass lines and shimmering, chorus-pedal heavy guitar chords, antiquated synths, and Color Film is, at its core, a tribute to the 1980s new wave, post punk, and early ‘alternative’ scene—that, at its worse, arrives sounding derivative and insincere; at its best, sounding surprisingly refreshing and dramatic.

Living Arrangement’s contrasts make it a bit of an inaccessible listen—at least at first. Much like with Glassjaw, it takes awhile to ease into this record. It opens with a brash introductory track before sliding into one of the album’s singles—the jittery “Small Town.” It’s a high-energy track, but it’s not one of the finest among the set, and for some reason, Palumbo’s bombastic range seems completely out of place here, however it fits in a little better as the album continues, like on “Crawling in Circles,” which features a dramatic performance on his part, as well as ridiculous sounding MIDI-horns during the song’s refrain.

It takes awhile, but after the halfway point, the album finds its pacing balance, evening out to create an impressive and surprisingly enjoyable second half. On “Bass in 7,” the band seems to channel a slightly toned down version of Glassjaw; the track is structured around frenetic percussion, heavier and distended guitars, odd time changes, and Palumbo’s impressive howling over the top of it.

I think the reason the album’s second half works so much better than the first is that it seems to be less self conscious—the material early on seems to be too preoccupied with trying to replicate that 1980s sound, while the album’s conclusion seems more focused on creating tighter sounding songs.

The tone, overall, seems to shift in the second half as well—taking a darker, brooding tone on songs like “Even If it Didn’t Exist” and “Springtime of Our Love.” The second half also contains Living Arrangement’s best songs—the moody, cavernous “52 Minds,” which one of my Bearded Gentlemen colleagues described as “the best Deerhunter song of 2017” (he’s not wrong), and the album’s unexpectedly epic closing track “Day After Day,” a song that begins with a Depeche Mode-esq slither and slink, before transcending into a gorgeous, shimmering refrain.

Sure, it’s uneven and flawed, but as a whole, it is also relatively hook-driven, so songs that aren’t as successful (e.g. “Small Town”) can get stuck in your head, whether you want them to or not.
Living Arrangements is an esoteric listen, mostly appealing to those who have followed Palumbo’s career since his Glassjaw days and have wondered what he has been up to in the band’s downtime. For casual listeners who may enjoy strongly 80s influenced music, there is something for you here too, but there is an unspoken tension in this record that will keep you at an arm’s length.

Living Arrangements is out now on Epitaph.