Review Summary: Listen to me carry on, I am my mother's son, and a curious one.
Not one lick of praise, low current hype or press release blabber readied me for the surprise I found in Pale Young Gentlemen’s Black Forest (Tra La La)
. All the obvious aesthetics about the band’s hype painted a solid-but-borrowed sound that I was already sick of (and why to this date I have yet to hear Pale Young Gentlemen’s self-titled debut). And with another Andrew Bird on the horizon, well, this town ain’t big enough.
For two months now I’ve mulled over Black Forest (Tra La La)
with an unexpected depth. The first listen proved my initial speculation founded, dark, deliberately paced baroque pop guided by a velvety-smooth wordsmith. It was great then too, a little gem lost in the year-end scramble, but I never forgot it. I pulled it out, compiled it through mixes, slowly fell in love with each track as their own entity and, in short order, their full form. On repeat listens, Black Forest (Tra La La)
does many things but never all at once, and is only a “grower” by default; you’ll love it all at once but won’t know why for a while.
Singer Mike Reisenauer is the most obvious stronghold of the band, so effortlessly does he slide into the orchestration that it’s hard to imagine the guy fronting anything else. He’s dramatic and takes this stuff seriously, but his ability to glide from gruff baritone to falsetto gives the surprisingly poetic and powerful Black Forest (Tra La La)
a considerable amount of depth. But Reisenauer is not carrying anything and this isn’t his album, and the Wisconsin-bred songwriters make the best of their sophomore effort, turning in a surefooted piece of 19th century European folk meets 21st century indie pop.
So yes, fit all your comfortably snug comparisons here; they’re all probably founded. Pale Young Gentlemen never court the idea that what they’re making is different and the confidence glows from the album’s opening moments, where we stumble to keep pace as three-chords speed out of the speakers. With a flourish of strings, Pale Young Gentlemen are seemingly quick to play their hand, and Reisenauer is bellowing before the first verse pulls away.
Just as quickly though, the song gives us a moment to pause, breathe, and it’s a neat trick, one they use sparingly and effectively. These song-specific quirks, little moments that turn every good song great, are an integral part of Black Forest (Tra La La)
and what make it special, which is a tough act to sell considering Pale Young Gentleme regularly saddle into a waltz of Eastern European dance hall and modern indie rock, touching upon cabaret ballads and Victorian era folk-punk (or something) in the process. Or, rather simply: good music that works, effortlessly, and is even easier to love.