Thursday, December 4, 2008

Review: Pale Young Gentlemen - Black Forest (tra la la) - (* * * *)

Madison, Wisconsin's Pale Young Gentlemen (and several ladies, I might add) have recently released their second album, Black Forest (tra la la), a beautifully executed chamber-pop record reminiscent of Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens. The group, founded by brothers Michael and Matt Reisenauer along with Brett Randall, now includes seven members playing everything from violas to bells. Full of complex arrangements, witty lyrics, and tasteful layers of sound, the band show no sign of a sophomore slump.

What immediately grabbed my attention when I first listened to Pale Young Gentlemen was Reisenauer's voice, which is at times a dead-ringer for Andrew Bird. However, while Bird focuses primarily on his virtuoso violin playing and fascinating poetry to carry his tunes, Pale Young Gentlemen have a variety of weapons at their disposal which they employ quite efficiently. The upbeat opener, "Coal/Ivory" features finger-picked guitar and stomping drums as a backbone while the strings swirl, sometimes gently, sometimes menacingly. The stately "Marvelous Design" is carried primarily by piano while "We Will Meet" includes some well-placed woodwinds and bells over what sounds like a harp. With each listen I seem to be able to identify a few more instruments, though the album never feels crowded or noisy. In fact, much of Black Forest is delicate and sparse, focusing on Reisenauer's vocals and adding embellishments to enhance rather than distract.

While the songs occasionally get a little TOO flowery, as on the pleasant, but almost silly "Wedding Guest," the band's exploration of classical themes blended with modern indie music is both admirable and enjoyable. An ambitious, yet sincere album, Black Forest is an enthralling collection of well-written songs that truly gets better each time around.

Young Gentlemen's MySpace Page