Pale Young Gentlemen: Black Forest (Tra La La)
Author: Genna Ord
Rating: 4.5/ 5
Starting something from the beginning is usually advisable, but I don’t regret hearing Pale Young Gentlemen for the first time on their sophomore album, Black Forest (Tra La La). I haven’t yet had the privilege of hearing their self-produced, self-recorded, and self-titled debut project yet, but it’s rising to the top of my to-do list with every listen I give to the band.
In a music scene where searching for that “unique” sound is becoming pretty common, it’s not unusual for indie bands to employ string instruments. Unlike many of today’s artists, Pale Young Gentlemen (evidently the three women in the band are unperturbed by the name) use theirs expertly. The Crook of My Good Arm is one example, starting off with a memorable cello riff that gives way to rollicking guitar. Violin is also prominent on the track, and Michael Reisenauer’s half-shouting chorus combines with the instruments to make a surprisingly energizing song.
Such typical instruments as the violin and cello aren’t the extent of it, though; the xylophone, harp, French horn, and flute all make appearances on the album. For a good part of the track We Will Meet, all you hear is Reisenauer’s rich voice over a beautiful harp melody. Though the band is from Wisconsin, the album has a 19th-century Europe feel that somehow manages to work perfectly and stay contemporary.
The combine of all these elements:– superb instrumentation, solid composition, and an almost whimsical feel—added to thoughtful lyrics make for an innovative, enjoyable album, the likes of which probably won’t be heard for quite some time.
After a long time apart working on their own projects, Ronnie (Joy Electric) and Jason (Starflyer 59) Martin have decided to come together to write an album together for the first time in over a decade. Brothers Martin is a perfect blend of Ronnie’s catchy synth leads and Jason’s California Rock guitar work. The album is a perfect answer to the dream of any fans of JE or SF59. Tracks like The Harsh Effect closely resemble recent JE songs, only with more instrumentation while tracks like The Plot That Weaves sound more like it could have been found on Starflyer’s 1998 release, The Fashion Focus. Fears To Remember proves that the two can come together and make a perfect mix of both styles into what resembles New Order’s early work. Fantastic. What really touches me about this album is that it’s a story of sorts showing how things move in circles. The two began together as teens back in the late 80s playing small shows in California under the name Dance House Children. The 90s brought their own individual projects which gave each great success over the years and now they have came back right to where they started; together once again. Fear not though, this doesn’t mean the end of either Starflyer 59 or Joy Electric, in fact be on the look out for JE’s new album The Otherly Opus due out March 20, 2007. It’s going to be superb.
The Broken String
Dead Oceans Records
4 out of 5
By Bob Hartzer
Bishop Allens’ second full-length release, Bishop Allen & The Broken String, is a pretty indie-pop album. Those familiar with the band may have heard about their ambitious EP project, wherein they released an EP for every month of the year in 2006. This album is a return to the LP format and is very well put together. The bands Myspace page describes, perhaps in jest, their sound as an oatmeal cookie. Well, they are not far off. To be quite honest, there is not a bad song on the record. The album is a somewhat formulaic indie-pop album, with pretty lyrics set to pretty music.
This is most certainly not a bad thing, but if you are looking for a sound with some gristle to chew on, &The Broken String is not your best bet. The album opens with ‘The Monitor’, which achieves a very full, majestic sound. It begins softly with acoustic guitar and the band slowly comes in, one by one, until a beautifully active peak. ‘Click, Click, Click, Click’ brings to the table an irritatingly catchy chorus which you may be muttering to yourself for days. Bishop Allen explore some darker themes in ‘The News From Your Bed,’ which is a light-hearted take on depression and loneliness. The tender song ‘Butterfly Nets,’ with vocals by Darbie Nowatka, has a wonderful tenor saxophone solo by Jon Natchez. My recommended track on the album is ‘Flight 180,’ a heartfelt ballad complete with violins and piano. On & The Broken String, Bishop Allen demonstrate yet again their talent for crafting pretty, catchy indie-pop songs. This is definitely worth a listen.