On Ultrasound, Palace Chronicle a Journey From Grief to Salvation

The London trio’s latest doesn’t push the boundaries of what their earlier music already showcased, instead it uplifts their established talents and offers a touching portrait of unimaginable loss and recalibrated love.

Music Reviews Palace
On Ultrasound, Palace Chronicle a Journey From Grief to Salvation

A static buzz lulls listeners into Ultrasound, Palace’s fourth and most sophisticated album—and yet it feels like stepping into a warm sea on a winter’s day. Ultrasound creates an oceanic soundscape, allowing for an immersive experience that expands as the album evolves. The London trio’s records often encapsulates the emotional spectrums they’re experiencing while recording them. Their last effort, 2022’s Shoals, was born out of the isolation and consequential anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic. After contracting long-COVID himself, frontman Leo Wyndham suffered from breathing complications and became unsure if he would ever sing normally again.

While contemplating life without music, he questioned his purpose and moved from writing love songs to confronting childhood trauma, mental health and crippling loneliness. Then, while sketching the earliest drafts of Ultrasound, Wyndham’s partner suffered a late miscarriage and the album then became an outlet for the grief that accompanied their loss, chronicling a year-long journey towards deliverance. “It was incredibly hard to comprehend what had happened, how to deal with it and how to move forward,” Wyndham said in a press release. “The album is the journey of that experience—starting with a loss, then a period of processing, and then finally acceptance, release and growth. And being in awe of women within that. Their dignity, strength and courage in how they can deal with these things that feel beyond a man.”

Six songs on the album were previously released across two parts in 2023: “Part I – When Everything was Lost” in July and “Part II – Nightmares & Icecream” in December. The record in-full delivers six new songs, including “Bleach,” which was released as a single earlier this winter. On the opening track “When Everything Was Lost,” Wyndham confronts his journey with dreams of a different reality: “I fear the smell of quiet rooms / Did someone say everything is fine? / Or did I dream that for a time?” But Ultrasound begins to truly shine during “Bleach,” which describes a grounding love: “We’ll bleach our hair together / And I’ll hold you tight forever / You anchor me to a different life / Found somebody to make it right / We’ll reach for something better / And we’ll gaze at stars for pleasure.” Wyndham interrupts this intimacy with the lyric, “Then you’ll say the moon is on fire,” conveying the havoc of pain that occurs when loss obstructs bliss.

Ultrasound doesn’t push the boundaries of what Palace’s earlier music already showcased; rather, it hones their established talents—featuring comedowns from Wyndham’s trademark falsetto, which he spent the majority of Shoals locked into, and an exploration of a deeper sound befitting for the album’s roots, in both Wyndham and his partner’s dark journey through the fluidity of loss. Though Ultrasound lacks diversity between the majority of its songs, it feels cohesive rather than boring. Just as grief blurs the boundaries between time and space, the seemingly repetitive nature of the album grants it a seamless flow—allowing the listener to drift between each song in a dreamlike trance. Lyrically, Wndyham stays in an existential space from start to finish, continuously questioning his purpose for living in the wake of grief and loss.

Tracks like “All We Ever Wanted,” however, are riddled with airy high notes and fail to dig deeper into the album’s narrative, presenting simplistic lyrics like “It all changed on my birthday / I never liked my birthday” and “It’s all inked on your body / Do you feel it in your body?” “Inside My Chest,” however, features more expressive deliberations, as Wyndham declares his unfaltering love through an attempt to empathize with a motherhood he watched get washed away: “Wounds that never heal / Irreplaceable, the void, that mothers feel / I listen to all I can to you my love / But we never find the words, the words they all get lost / I’d do it all again to sit beside you / Do it all again for the sweetest love I knew.” Similarly, “Nightmares & Ice Cream” is a dreamlike track that blends grief and love with soft vocals and smooth instrumentation. Lines like “It’s so raw when I melt with you” contrast with deeper lyrics like “Dive underneath this, come alive / Look in the water, I’ll dream of our daughter someday.”

Sonically “Say the Words” is most similar to Palace’s older music, with vocals that cut through a guitar heavy arrangement—akin to tracks like “Bitter” and “Fire in the Sky” off their debut album So Long Forever, but thematically it centralizes Wyndham’s awe of empowerment through lyrics like “You wrote it in a letter just to help me perceive / That it’s hard to be the woman that they want you to be / So just say the words / It’s your time to shine.” There’s a last grasp at hope in the following track, “How Far We’ve Come,” which was released under “Part I” of their 2023 EPs. Over a steady drum beat, Wyndham’s vocals are anchored in a repeated proclamation: “I know that we all turn to dust / I’ll hold my head up, straight spine / and pray we’ll be just fine.”

Ultrasound, at its core, is about diving into the deepest pits of devastation and darkness and fighting to come out on the other side. The album concludes with a softly sung testament, “I’ll never forget who you were,” on its final track “Goodnight, Farewell.” Through this outstanding resilience comes a love letter to his partner, and a testament of his blossoming appreciation for not just her everyday strength, but that of everyone around him. Having attacked sorrow head-on, listeners may ask why Palace didn’t take a greater risk with their sound—but Ultrasound holds a profound existentialism and intimacy that is, more often than not, wondrously expressed in simple terms.

Alyssa Goldberg is a writer and photographer based between New York and Boston. Find her on Twitter @alyssaegoldberg or at alyssaegoldberg.com.

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