Pale Young Gentlemen Black Forest (tra la la)

[Science of Sound; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: orchestral indie pop
Others: Andrew Bird

I hope Pale Young Gentlemen will forgive me for remarking on how much their record Black Forest (tra la la) sounds like another artist, because I’m sure they’ve heard this one before: to my ears, and doubtless to those of others, some of PYG’s tunes are absolute dead-ringers for Andrew Bird’s. Like Bird, PYG like a heavy dose of strings with their tunes. In addition to a violin and viola, there’s a cello, and singer Michael Reisenauer’s syrupy, languid vocals bear more than a passing similarity to Bird’s. Perhaps it’s a lazy comparison, but allow me to put it this way: if you’re a fan of Bird’s high-water mark The Mysterious Production of Eggs, Black Forest deserves a spot in your rotation.

The upbeat “Coal/Ivory” starts the record off in fine fashion. The simple guitar riff that carries the tune reminds me a bit of fellow Wisconsin act Violent Femmes, but the similarity ends there -- PYG’s music is far prettier (if less powerful) than anything the Femmes did. I prefer the quicker-paced songs here, and although “The Crook of My Good Arm” isn’t the equal of “Coal/Ivory,” it does pick the record up after a few pleasant-but-forgettable numbers. “Our History” is better, a genuinely gorgeous, foot-tapper of a song that makes splendid use of the strings, embedding the song’s hook in a bright violin figure.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of filler here as well -- gorgeously textured, sweeping filler, but filler nonetheless. “Wedding Guest” is saccharine to the point of being irritating. I also get the impression that percussionist Mathew Reisenauer is at his best when at his most straightforward: when PYG employ traditional rock drumming -- such as on the buoyant “There Is a Place?” and especially on “Our History” -- it pays the best dividends, serving as an anchor for all the lovely details.

Black Forest (tra la la) is a nice little record made by an ambitious group of musicians from whom I expect excellent things. Three or four songs here are downright wonderful, and the rest, at the very least, aren’t entirely unpleasant.

1. Coal/Ivory
2. I Wasn’t Worried
3. Marvelous Design
4. Goldenface, Morninglight
5. The Crook of My Good Arm
6. Kettle Drum (I Left a Note)
7. Shadows/Doorways
8. Our History
9. Wedding Guest
10. We Will Meet
11. There is a Place?
12. She’s All Mine, I Think

Most Read