Fretful folk-rock with a Brazilian twist from former Goat Girl bassist Naima Bock’s album Giant Palm in our AUGUST 2022 issue of Uncut, available to buy here.
Stressed out as she put the final touches to her debut LP, Naima Bock imagined herself being lifted away from earthly misery by a colossal hand. The result was the title track of the luminous, strange Giant Palm, a swirling two-note trundle with distinct sun-drunk Kevin Ayers vibes. “For a while I forget that I cannot fly / And I float high, high above it all”, sings the 25-year-old Londoner. “A giant palm felt like the place I needed to be,” she tells Uncut. “It’s warm and it lifts you up.”
Quiet, melancholy and occasionally divinely uplifting, the burbling horns, sawing violins and soaring melodies of Giant Palm nod awkwardly toward the metaphysical marvels of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom, The Raincoats’ Odyshape, and Cassandra Jenkins’ An Overview On Phenomenal Nature. A handfast marriage of the classic British folk-rock and Brazilian samba records she grew up listening to, and modern auteurs like Big Thief and Aldous Harding, it is also a substantial leap away from her previous life as bassist in Goat Girl.
A member of the band since she was 15, ‘Naima Jelly’ quit the South London squall merchants in 2019 and went off to her father’s native Brazil to brood. “I was feeling quite lost,” she says. “I had this kind of void of blackness ahead.” When she returned to London, she set up her own gardening firm and started a degree in archaeology. “I was determined to follow a different career path. I just wrote songs because it was a release and because it was what I needed to carry on doing for my own sanity.”
Fate, however, intervened. After a friend introduced her to producer Joel Burton, Bock was persuaded to take up the offer of free studio time in Streatham during the 2020 lockdown, the pair enlisting a cast of musicians to weave her gnomic songs into little moonlit marvels. Taking inspiration from two Brazilian classics – Chico Buarque’s wordy 1971 LP Construção and Nara Leão’s chic 1964 debut – they whipped up an idiosyncratic set that persuaded Sub Pop to sign Bock sight-unseen, even though she had never really sung solo in public.
However, if Giant Palm owes something to happenstance and good fortune, Bock didn’t feel lucky when she was making it. Spaced-out shanty “Every Morning” and the weary “Working” (sample lyric: “It’s all been a waste of time, a big fat waste of time”) express her fear that – at 23 – she had somehow managed to ruin her life. “The overall internal atmosphere I had when I was recording that album was that I was cutting myself open and spilling my guts out,” she says with a slight shudder. “I felt vulnerable and very exposed. It was painful; weirdly horrible.”
However, if Giant Palm had an unhappy genesis, it has opened up new horizons for Bock. Having taken a year out from university ahead of its long-awaited release, she’s already got a second album sketched out. “I’ve been listening to a horrible amount of country music,” she confides. “John Prine, Gillian Welch, Townes Van Zandt, Sturgill Simpson…” To her surprise she is also enjoying performing live, the songs on Giant Palm giving her more of a lift every time she plays them. “I wanted to be able to have some kind of emotional release that, playing bass in a band, I couldn’t quite do,” she says. “Every single show feels like a therapy session.”
Giant Palm is released by Sub Pop on July 1.