28 November 2007

Pale Young Gentlemen

Up until yesterday, the forecast looked pretty clear to do a nice little writeup on Pale Young Gentlemen from an ideal perspective: the deliberately blissful position of not doing one's "homework". I'm talking about the intentional act of listening to a band's music with little to no awareness of what others have said or written about them, or even more ideally of what they've said or written about themselves. It's a self-discovery that makes you stop and actually grapple with the elements you personally respond to and recoil from, all the while lending credence to the grating cliche of "letting the music speak for itself."

I was all ready to do this...and then I read the Pitchfork review (note: as of the publishing of this post Pitchfork's site was down so beware the hyperlink. Note note: this also means much of the following is conjured from memory so beware).

Oops. Now, this isn't to suggest that I'm unable to formulate my own opinion about the Madison, WI seven-piece and their self-titled album but rather that the brittle bubble protecting me from outside chatter done got popped. This is especially unfortunate because I was roughly halfway through my virginal spin of the album when I came across the review, which should be noted was mostly thoughtful and well-written. Afterwards, I couldn't help but consider the various questions it posed and alternately wondered "is this album excellent or is it deceptively front-loaded?" and "does the fact that Michael Reisenauer's vocals sound a bit like Chris Martin please me or turn me off?" and perhaps unrelated "what does it matter that the drummer personally got in touch with me and other people in order to disseminate the album?" and even "why the need to include Sasha Frere-Jones and Black Kids references in the first sentence of the review?"

See what happens? One outside review skewed my perspective in that it forced me to consider these questions instead of raising my own based on a once-unblemished reaction to the music. So, in fairness to the Pale Young Gentlemen, I'll try to pick this up where I once left off. Firstly, to answer the questions raised above: 1) yes the album is excellent, 2) yes Reisenauer's vocals please me - they do recall Chris Martin but an even more immediate comparison could be made to Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos (both of whose voices I like) - though I can see how they may not be for everyone, 3) the fact about the drummer is completely irrelevant, and 4) I'm not really sure what to make of the SFJ and Black Kids references and I'm not really sure I care.

Now, for a refreshing change of pace, what about the music? Obvious references can be (and were) made to Beirut and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and such comparisons are definitely warranted and accurate. Their songwriting and arrangements also recall a more frenetic Die Romantik, and there's a charmingly ramshackle feel to these burlesque orchestral arrangements that are able to transcend their own playfulness by the weight and sense of urgency added by Reisenauer's dramatic crooning (again, I'm a big fan of his voice).

The band cites Randy Newman as a musical touchstone, but I would also invite Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney - particularly the awesomeness of the Ram era Macca - to the comparison party as well. And let's face it, you could do worse than drawing inspiration from those three.

So, the moral of the story is that you should forget everything you just read and check Pale Young Gentlemen out for yourself. You won't be disappointed....but forget I said that.

See Pale Young Gentlemen Live:
18 December 07 - Madison, WI @ Cafe Montmarte w/Marla Hansen
20 December 07 - Chicago, IL @ Cobra Lounge
25 January 08 - Minneapolis, MN @ Nomad World Pub

Listen:

"Single Days"

Visit Pale Young Gentlemen on MySpace.

32 comments:

ahab said...

I live in Madison. They're kind of shitty live. Yet wildly popular.

Anonymous said...

I think they're pretty swell. First heard of them on Pitchfork and then found this review. Nice review by the way. Though I can't say how they are live, what I've heard is good.

Anonymous said...

Their lineup and sound have shifted a fair bit since they recorded the album. The live show was very frenetic and ridiculous with the smaller earlier line-up. I personally prefer the sound on the album, as their new songs are a bit slower, which just isn't my thing so much. However, their new stuff is growing on me, so I think their next album may be a bit less catchy but deeper. But that's still probably a while off. Regardless, this album is fun and worth a try at the very least.

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