Pale Young Gentlemen
Pale Young Gentlemen
By Eric Sams | 4 August 2007
Matt Reisenauer, the percussive half of the fraternal duo at the heart of the Pale Young Gentlemen, e-mailed me personally. He asked courteously if he might send me the band’s self-titled debut so that I could listen to it and formulate an opinion. As I am nothing if not an opinion formulator, I accepted his invitation. And so from the beginning it was clear that the Gents (somewhat of a misnomer as the act’s cellist is female) were in the DIY stage of commercial promotion. When your drummer’s sending your promos out himself it’s either a result of an unhealthy work ethic or your organization hasn’t really gotten off the ground yet.
This promotional stage often bespeaks the presence of weaknesses caused by inclement circumstances or insecurities common to musical endeavors in their youth, pale or otherwise. First, these are bedroom records, which is not itself an indictment, but production value certainly factors into the likelihood of a successful outcome. Second, many youngsters cling too tightly to their influences at the expense of exploring and defining their own sonic niche. However, just as in actual adolescence, there are some whose eccentricities allow them to be oblivious to their own tenuous situations.
Happily, Pale Young Gentlemen seem to be just such oddballs. For starters, they don’t cling to their influences because they don’t seem to have accurately identified them. The Gents’ aspire toward Randy Newman, but I hear more of a lost Bowl of Fire record. Mike Reisenauer shares both Andrew Bird’s quirky spontaneity and his pleasing baritone, though neither is yet as finely tuned. In fact, all the whiners bemoaning the opacity of the lyrics on Armchair Apocrypha (2007) may find PYG a more palatable alternative.
Production difficulties are also neutralized by the fact that the Gents’ music is so inherently theatrical that technical flourishes would seem superfluous. Because of this the Gents waltz their way through these ten sturdy, mid-tempo numbers rarely striking a bum note. “Fraulein” is a noir piano stomp about a pale (get it?) siren decimating the male population of a gin joint, complete with the fantastic longing utterance, “She will turn me down / But then at least know that I’m around.” “Clap Your Hands” is a meticulously orchestrated taunt, the piano line plodding back and forth in the lower register beneath sonorous strings and a delicately plucked guitar. If Apocrypha had not been released in March Pale Young Gentlemen would be the year’s best album of its kind.
It was the refrain though, that caused me to arrive at a realization. Mike sings, “Click your heels / Dance, dance / Grab a girl / Dance, dance,” which got me to thinking that there’s another band, proprietors and spearheads of a ludicrous hype generator, that implores us similarly to “dance, dance.” And that got me to thinking that there are so many bands — (exhausted sigh) — so many bands with a phalanx of interns and publicists who send their promotional e-mails for them, that do not, even with all their advantages, make music as authentically enjoyable as the Pale Young Gentlemen have crafted in somebody’s bedroom in Madison, Wisconsin. And that got me to thinking that maybe the whole process is a little counterintuitive, and that got me to wondering why.
I think it’s because everybody wants to stake a claim in the successes of others, especially if they themselves had nothing to do with it. At the risk of sounding melodramatic or preachy, this tendency turns music into machinery once it has snowballed past a certain point. It should be avoided at all costs. In “An Appeal to St. Peter” Reisenauer sings, “Look around / You’ll see my kind / Straining as we try.” So I won’t divert attention from your efforts, Mike, by claiming to have “discovered” an act with titillating potential. I didn’t distill their sound from the din one hears when one puts his ear to the unforgiving pavement of the underground. Matt Reisenauer e-mailed me. PYG are responsible for this album, and PYG are responsible (at least in equal part) for this review, which makes me feel a little insecure about my role in this whole progression. Maybe I’ll type my tag line in all capital letters.