PAS/CAL: I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura

PAS/CAL, an unlikely experimental pop group from Detroit, has made a pretty astounding debut album


I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura

Label: Le Grand Magistery
US Release Date: 2008-07-22
UK Release Date: Available as import

PAS/CAL makes the kind of music you don’t hear too much these days. It’s intelligent. It’s full of ideas. It has richly painted, complex characters who you’re more likely to describe as “protagonists” than to automatically assume are projections of the band’s songwriter, Casimer Pascal. And best of all, it’s dressed up in the sort of unexpected pop costume that causes you to catch your breath at the infectious spirit of it all.

Detroit may not be known for its indie scene, but it’s produced one of the most exciting new acts to emerge for a long time. The seven-strong group take a tongue-in-cheek approach to their music, as well as to the band itself. With names like LTD, Gene Corduroy, and Richard Panic, the band’s full of characters with outsized personalities, and a similarly idiosyncratic approach to songwriting. Not that they're working entirely alone; there are other groups making this kind of music. Boat! has put out a number of albums that shuttle between catchy melody and casual, hurried-past insight, and Canadian artist Owen Pallett, with his project Final Fantasy, brings a similar sense of quirky exuberance to his experimental pop songs. But neither of those bands have quite the panache of PAS/CAL.

The group has been around for about six years, but I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura is the debut full-length LP. Three EPs -- Dear Sir, Oh Honey, We’re Ridiculous, and The Handbag Memoirs -- make up the band’s back catalogue, and though a handful of songs from these releases find their way onto the LP, the new album’s quality makes you want to return to those EPs and listen, thoroughly, again. Like the Hold Steady, the group knows the fan-base value of self-reference: one song on the new album (“O Honey, We’re Ridiculous”) takes its name from, but doesn’t appear on, the previous EP.

All that time playing together has allowed PAS/CAL to cement a strong musical identity. It’s capricious without ever being irrelevant. Right out of the gates, the album bounds forward with exuberance and a barely-contained plethora of ideas. In fact, this hardly lets up over the first six tracks. There’s the upbeat travel song “We Made Our Way, We Amtrakked”, with its rebellious, life-loving shout of affirmation, “The answer is yes I will sit next to you”. There’s the bustling geek-pop “Summer Is Almost Here”, which undercuts the anticipation of summer sunbathing with the unexpected twist of concern -- there’s something wrong with the protagonist’s companion, though we’re not quite sure what. And on top of that there’s the insanely catchy “O Honey, We’re Ridiculous”, a defiant guitar stomp that out-Weezers even old-school Weezer: geeks are much more likely to write this literate music than straight 1-5-1 power chords. “All our hopes and dreams are such silly dreams”, Pascal declares, “They’re just -- well, they’re just like us”.

One aspect of the music that distinguishes PAS/CAL from lesser artists is that the group develops ideas fully across the musical shifts within their songs. This means they’re not just purveyors of well-constructed pastiche, but that each change of direction is a considered amplification of a song’s underlying conceit. Songs often break the five minute mark, but never feel over-stretched. “You Were Too Old for Me” is illustrative: the ending is worlds apart from the straight indie-pop introduction; between, the song bounds from one idea to another, pausing momentarily three minutes in to catch its breath. It’s true, the melodramatic outlook and unironic exuberance may strike some listeners as a little precious. You might be turned off by the way Pascal rolls his r’s. But there’s no real reason to be. It’s supremely refreshing to hear a band without a hint of whiny indie rock vocal; it’s all celebration, idosyncracy, fun.

Occasionally, in the album’s second half, when the energy momentarily dips, the music can come across like a kind of inside joke that the listener doesn’t always get. But it’s PAS/CAL’s success to make this a thrilling challenge, something that causes us to return to these songs, to attempt to understand them, again and again.

The young man, writing his novel on the train, complains “I haven’t written a goddamned thing in so long”. He’s too distracted by the images of regular life he sees through the window -- and can’t hope to capture with his pen. That’s a short moment from “Dearest Bernard Living”. The song moves on, musically and thematically, but the image lingers, perfectly captured. Moments like this make I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura a very special debut indeed.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.