Pale Young Gentlemen
Pale Young Gentlemen
he public relations ghouls tell us Pale Young Gentlemen hail from Madison, Wisconsin. You’re good PR folk, but you’re not that good. We know better: Pale Young Gentlemen are rootless. All the most sweeping, eclectic groups are—a myriad of genre touchpoints and era timepieces giving the music a pleasantly unsettling quality. Madison is as MOR as one can get geographically, yet Pale Young Gentlemen are anything but.
Blending Eastern European folk, Munich beer hall singalongs, ‘60s baroque stylings, and flecks of dance, they make music that’s coquettish and risqué, but never oversexed. Singer / songwriter Mike Reisenauer allows the listener to become a tad damp before quickly shifting the mood towards nervously droll and melodramatic. It’s pop that plays heightened and delightfully hollow, and back again.
On the opener, “Fraulein,” the isolated ivory pounding and carousel drum beat (clicking high-hat and pounding bass) reaches a fidgety climax on the choruses, a cheeky Reisenauer reassuring himself, “She will turn me down / But then at least know that I’m ‘round.” “Me & Nikolai” is all piano twinkling bounce and moments of Spanish guitar, before coiling itself into tense, waltzy sections dominated by Reisenauer’s lyrics of sour love, which call to mind the best Arcade Fire serial: “I left my lady in New Orleans / Do words describe her, my beauty queen?”
“Clap Your Hands” is Gogol Bordello without the sneer and leer—and likely a favorite at gigs, Reisenauer imploring listeners to “Click your heels, dance, dance / Grab a girl, dance, dance” over quick bow strokes on the cello and two-note piano playing. It’s infectious and catchy, and exactly what it sounds like: five Wisconsin folk doing their best Gypsy pop send-up.
Reisenauer’s songwriting is what make this self-titled such a gem, the playful piano and cello arrangements (swaying from Final Fantasy-like classical to earthy smears of folk) always setting the mood and anticipating the many tempo shifts—and never serving as mere look-we-got-strings! grandeur. Of course, Reisenauer’s quirkiness ensures his compositions never teeter towards extreme gravitas. Take “Saturday Night”: It opens with way-off-Broadway piano and maudlin cello before revealing its rather unexpected hook: lusty, swing-your-stein harmonies involving the track’s title.
And yes, Pale Young Gentlemen do straight-up pop, too. In the sparse ballad “As a War,” Reisenauer does his best Chris Martin impression—you know, if Chris Martin was Hungarian and labored to a sweat and rolled in dirt and, of course, didn’t suck. “Up North” has circular piano melodies and handclaps, Reisenauer tearing a page out of the Randy Newman songbook: a solider considering draft-dodging all because he’s puppy-loved; an example of how one compelling method of conveying the positive is to show the absurdity of the negative.
Pale Young Gentlemen checks in at ten songs and 30 minutes, but the constant tempo changes and thickly layered arrangements give it the feel of something more epic. It’s a classic first album: A band unpretentiously tangling various genres they—or even listeners—thought would never sound so brilliant together.