Palms + Lia Ices

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Rare Book Room Studio opened in 1995, but owner-producer Nicolas Vernhes waited until now—the worst time ever for record labels—to start an in-house imprint. And not a moment too soon: Three releases in, RBR is renewing the notion of an indie label as a work of art in itself. After its two-disc February debut, the compilation Living Bridge, RBR’s superb first albums reveal a layered and uniquely refined pop aesthetic.

Palms is the bicontinental duo of Ryan Schaefer (NYC) and Nadja Korinth (Berlin). Artists working across time zones is hardly new, but the process might have helped make It’s Midnight in Honolulu so sublimely nocturnal. Korinth slides between German and English on the fateful and spooked “Der Koenig,” while pieces like “Monte Alban” and “New Moon” hover in a regal daze, with glistening synths that could give David Lynch night sweats. For good measure, in “Leather Daddies” the pair imagines what the Velvets might’ve sounded like if they’d come up 20 years later.

Brooklyn’s Lia Ices sings and plays piano, which means she’s destined to get an Internet’s worth of Cat Power and Regina Spektor comparisons. That’s a lousy shame for all kinds of reasons; a better image would be a thawed Nico recording for 4AD in the mid-’80s. Alternately downcast, stoic and celebratory, on Necima Ices displays a poet’s gift for language and the restraint to wield it simply. Songs like the stately pop waltz “Half Life” and the gracefully defiant “(Un)Chosen One” could keep a soul warm through winter.

It’s Midnight in Honolulu (Rare Book Room)