Pale Boy is comprised of 13 musicians playing tuba, marimba, guitars, French horn, sax, violin and keyboard. The lyrics are composed and sung by one Seth Geltman with assistance on some of the tracks from Jeana Dodge. This is an eclectic breed of music, combining classical, jazz, folk and most everything in between.
Things start out impressively enough with “Just a Thought” and “Shy Beast”, two tracks marked by their snappy tempo and charming lyrics, on which Geltman sings. The third track, “Almost”, sung with elegant precision by Jeana Dodge raises things a notch or two and is the outstanding number on this album. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here. Geltman seems to be trying to emulate Lou Reed and his method of half-speaking, half-singing songs but he lacks any of Reed’s vocal authority. He seems to regard the music as an afterthought and sings as if he is making up the lyrics and tune as he goes along.
Admittedly, the importance of freeing oneself from rules and convention is a constant theme here—on the title track, he sings: “The obligations, all the motions I went through are gone now….and I’m left with something new, a sequence or a pattern that I can’t find in any catalogue.” But whereas the rejection of conventional notions of melody and tune in a deliberate attempt to subvert convention has lead to some wonderful innovation in the hands of sufficiently talented individuals, here the result often becomes jarring. Where musical pioneers from Stockhausen to Coltrane and even Beck have redefined the musical vocabulary to create something original yet deeply meaningful, most of the songs here come across as being naff and pretentious.
The mediocrity of the vocals is a pity, because the musical backing here is of a consistently high standard. It mingles delicately with the vocals, saturated with strings and the melancholy sound of muted horns. “Shy Beast” boasts a sprinkling of classical guitar and “I Know What You’re Thinking” kicks off with a beautiful string intro. The instrumental tracks, “Chance of Showers” and “Chloe”, both stand out as high points of the album. The music shows a degree of sophistication and ambition that would, however, be served better by higher production quality.
While there is certainly plenty of talent and originality on display here, it is all captured on about four of the 18 tracks. The rest run the spectrum from mediocre to, well, excruciating. Had this debut been whittled down to four or five tracks and released as an EP, then we might have gotten a better indication of talent within Pale Boy. As it is, this will do little but alienate its potential audience by subjecting it to such low quality fare.
The fourth track, “Promise Me”, opens with the request ‘Promise me obscurity.” Well, Pale Boy have nothing to worry about for the time being. It is unlikely that the band will be raised out of obscurity on the strength of this release. However, there is enough potential and ambition on display here to warrant a second chance. But next time guys, how about focussing less on theory and more on connecting with the audience?