Thursday, November 20th, 2008
Review of Pale Young Gentlemen's Black Forest (Tra La La)
Christina HensleyWhen I was writing up the self-titled debut from Madison, Wisconsin’s Pale Young Gentlemen last year, I took the easy way out in name-checking some of the more obvious stylistic reference points (DeVotchKa, Decemberists, Beirut) but the band has to take equal responsibility in that – they made it easy. And to be fair, I still gave the record a thumbs up – just because it was a bit obvious, it didn’t make it any less of an accomplished and enjoyable debut.
But they’re not letting me get away with any such shortcuts with the follow-up, Black Forest (Tra La La), released last month. Though the same elements are at work, or even moreso in the case of their expanded string section, Black Forest has a much greater sense of purpose and determination about it. The debut seemed quite content to spend the evening at the cabaret getting debauched in grand fashion, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but while the sophomore effort starts off in that same setting with the grandiose “Coal/Ivory”, it then opts to step outside and go for a walk, exploring the dark nooks and crannies of existence.
As such, it’s a less immediate and raucous affair. On the first few listens, I was asking myself, “didn’t this band used to be fun?”, but repeated listens served the record well. Michael Reisenauer’s croon is as dramatic as ever and the orchestrated backdrops even richer than before, but the overall delivery is much more nuanced and less reliant on the big, sweeping gestures. That may not play as well to those in the cheap seats, but for those up front and paying attention, it’s much more rewarding.
Laura Marling is the subject of interviews at Clash and For Folk’s Sake. I feel compelled to mention that the LP versions of Alas, I Cannot Swim are worth seeking out, not only because it’s a nice heavy pressing but because it also comes with a bonus live CD that features the backing band that played with her on the recent “Fe Fie Fo Fum” North American tour, and as such, sounds absolutely splendid. I don’t know if there’s any other (legal) way to get Verses From The Union Chapel, but it’s worth having. And the players that largely comprised said band, Mumford & Sons, are also interviewed at For Folk’s Sake.