Somewhere in Madison, Wisconsin, a five-piece called Pale Young Gentlemen is refining their narrative balladry, piling cello tracks and pleasing disorganized, hoot-and-holler backup vocals over saloon piano melodies. The self-released, self-titled 2007 album from this outfit is marked by a promising songwriting talent in vocalist/pianist Mike Reisenauer, while a cast of four (Mike's drumming brother Matt included) contribute the charming arrangements to the CD's ten tracks. Although the clamor is genuine here, such as that which courses through the oompah-stomp of "Clap Your Hands," with tasteful, syncopated plucking from cellist Elizabeth Weamer, Pale Young Gentlemen's work is more compelling when the players pull back.
"My Light, Maria" is a mid-live-set stripped-bare ditty, short on percussion. It follows the band's slovenly, singalong-ready "Saturday Night", but on "My Light", only the piano-playing Reisenauer sibling and Weamer are accounted for. The crests and valleys wear out the rather showy lead vocalist, and by the end of "My Light, Maria", Mike Reisenauer's offering is breathy and genuinely beaten. For all the stage tragedy-type peaks that Pale Young Gentlemen brush against on this passionate debut, these closing moments resonate quite deeply. "Up North" is just as noteworthy; through its sparse bounce and jangly tambourine, a grave tale is told -- via Muswell Hillbillies-esque pomp -- of a drafted man who cannot possibly go off to war because he's in love. By dressing down only a tad bit on a few songs, the creative Midwestern five-piece capture even more of the decorative, backward-looking sensibility they're going for on this very solid first effort.