With respect to theatrical albums, the risk of overwhelming drama and insufficient musical substance often leads the most ambitious artists to mediocrity. To everyone’s benefit, Pale Young Gentlemen aurally prevent descriptions short of “excellent” from entering their listeners’ lexicon while experiencing this quintet’s self-titled debut LP. Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin – my objectivity and fine taste in music lead me to forgive the band members for any University of Wisconsin associations, notwithstanding my graduation from Penn State – Pale Young Gentlemen actually include four gents who don’t look so ghostly in their press kit photo and one female cellist, Liz Weamer. The band’s eponymous debut is a classy, memorable, and swooning collection of sophisticated pop.
Weamer introduces the album with eight seconds of just her cello, followed by a happy blast of piano from lead vocalist and songwriter Mike Reisenauer. “Fraulein,” the opening track, is a lyrical roller coaster of emotions for a young man pursuing his girl. Mike Reisenauer’s playing is especially effective, his keys driving the plot. Brother Matt Reisenauer and Andrew Brawner form a tight rhythm section, demonstrably adept at changing pace on drums and bass, respectively. “Me & Nikolai” is one of the album’s most amusing songs, with an adventurous, funny narrative: “Well, Madeleine Madeleine Madeleine / Will fall right into my trap / We’ll dress up like two women / And we’ll take her off the map / And we saw her standing there / She was in her underwear.”
Whether frenetic or relaxed, Pale Young Gentlemen’s songs consistently captivate the ear while conjuring up images of reveling packed central European pubs and cafes. “Saturday Night” lowers the tempo, with Mike Reisenauer delivering one of his best vocal performances. Other relatively slow tracks include the piano and cello dominated romance of “My Light, Maria,” the rhyming, charmingly grandiose “A Shadow on the Wall,” and the passionate and solitary “As a War.”
Much of Pale Young Gentlemen’s appeal derives from their ability to blend 19th century musical motifs with eternal human emotions and the need to celebrate, however briefly. “Clap Your Hands” is an example of the band at its peak of power, Brett Randall’s guitar contemporarily complementing an otherwise “old” song. The chorus, “Clap your hands / Dance dance / Feed the birds / Dance dance / And don’t remind me / While you dance dance,” may stay with listeners longer than anything else on the album. Pale Young Gentlemen close their debut LP with “Single Days,” a song which beautifully combines everything that is good about the band: affecting lyrics, memorable hooks, a driving beat, and gorgeous harmonies by all five members. Pale Young Gentlemen have crafted a terrific album which should appeal to anyone looking for a celebration or a sympathetic croon. Let’s hope for more live performances soon.