In October 2008, Pale Young Gentlemen finished creathing the follow-up to their critically acclaimed, self-titled debut. Musically and emotionally expansive, "Black Forest (tra la la)" is distinct from their previous release. Trading the bouncy piano and old dancehall beats for finger-plucked guitar and quivering strings, Pale Young Gentlemen craft a unique and uncompromising musical vision--a stirring sprawling 43 minutes.
"Black Forest" twists and flows and weaves like scenery on an uncertain path. The tracks tie together by shared musical and narrative threads, with each building upon the next for an astounding, cinematic effect. "Black Forest" is rich and diverse, ranging from the frantic guitar-and-drum-driven 'Coal/Ivory', to the languid lyrical meanderings of 'Kettle Drum (I Left a Note)'. Touches of glockenspiel, flute, french horn, and harp vary and fortify PYG’s core of acoustic guitar, bass, drums, cello, viola, and violin.
As with their debut, "Black Forest" was recorded at Smart Studios in the band’s hometown of Madison, Wisconsin and produced by Beau Sorenson (Death Cab For Cutie, Sparklehorse). Recorded and mixed in less than two weeks, "Black Forest" is Pale Young Gentlemen’s first release with Madison-based label Science of Sound.
"Black Forest (tra la la)" announces the maturation of a band. It is ambitious, but it is honest. Here, in these twelve songs, the unique vision of Pale Young Gentlemen finds a clarity not found among their contemporaries
Perhaps one of the best Britrock records of 2008, a year which has seen releases from UK giants like Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Keane and Travis, comes to us special delivery from Madison, Wisconsin and the band Pale Young Gentlemen.
Why give such a geographically-confusing label to the four pale young gentlemen and three pale young ladies who crafted these 12 lush tunes? The answer lies in the group’s union of endearing, melancholy melodies and gentle, pastoral soundscapes; in their sound, Pale Young Gentlemen capture the feelings that Great Britain’s overcast skies and bucolic countryside tend to evoke with more clarity and certainty than any band in recent memory.
Black Forest (Tra La La) is an album that is modest in its aims, yet nearly cinematic in its execution; the band never shoots for the atmospheric hooks or spectacular crescendos produced by their contemporaries. The album is, however, gently stirring and thoroughly stunning. While each song is simple in structure and approached with a certain degree of minimalism, the group understands how to adorn their work with an unpretentious beauty.
Pale Young Gentlemen give you a sense of where they’re headed musically from track one, “Coal/Ivory.” The tune commences with active, rootsy guitars, fluid strings and a pulsing drum beat. Vocalist Michael Reisenauer delivers a quirky and commanding vocal turn; at times, Reisenauer’s baritone approaches a quality not unlike that of Coldplay leader Chris Martin. The band’s tendency toward British stylings increase exponentially in the moments Reisenauer sounds most like Martin.
“Coal/Ivory” introduces the skill and sensitivity of the three string players in the album’s lineup; their playing makes the musical colors provided by violin, viola and cello a constant and often comforting presence. Whether tracks prove hearty and up-tempo or soft and sincere, the group’s string arrangements are adapted to ensure the instruments prove a welcome addition to every track and never a distraction.
The record progresses forward with two of its best songs coming back-to-back: “I Wasn’t Worried,” relies on fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a softly pleading melody from Reisenauer, taking on the dreary feel and minimal form often embraced by Radiohead. “Marvelous Design” follows, revisiting and reviving the album’s often cinematic outlook; with its interplay between rich piano chords and winding strings, the tune sounds like the accompaniment for a cold and blustery street scene, where a protagonist soldiers on, fighting both the wind and his own emotional distress.
Throughout Black Forest , the band blends in a variety of influences; with its lively string passages, gently grooving guitar/bass and percussive stomp, “Our History” feels like a Decemberists track. “We Will Meet,” arguably the album’s crowning achievement, sets a melody that’s pure McCartney against a backdrop worthy of a stately Renaissance chamber concert, giving the track the sound of a modern-day madrigal. In fact, the band’s predisposition toward structuring arrangements around acoustic guitar and strings, writing downy melodies and adding quirky accents often lends the songs on Black Forest a sort of timelessness that is refreshing in this time. That sense is most notably captured on “Goldenface, Morninglight,” a ballad which is shaped by its string figures and includes an wonderful, lilting mid-section which is reprised briefly at the song’s coda.
Progressive yet embracing the past, full of fit and flourish without ever sounding fanciful, Black Forest (Tra La La) is one of the most unique and glorious albums of the year. Pale Young Gentleman have truly captured what it means to be captivating and this record possesses the qualities nececssary to live long past the day in which it was recorded. -Aarik Danielsen, Pop Matters
Praise for Black Forest (tra la la):
"It’s a soundtrack to a masterpiece film that hasn’t been shot yet, an album that gets stronger as it progresses and with repeated listens; it’s damn well near flawless and scoffs at the shadow of its predecessor." - Ear Farm
"It’s an album that goes about reluctantly wedding past and present influences, impressively, and refreshingly favoring the former." - Cokemachine Glow
"It’s a soundtrack to a fairytale, telling a dream — like fable of a man looking back on his life and searching for answers." - Venus Zine
"Once again, Pale Young Gentlemen have crafted a singularly noteworthy record unlike anything else." - Delusions of Adequacy
"If their first record was year-end worthy and critically acclaimed, Black Forest (tra La La) advances them past those well-earned accolades into an entirely different level of success." - Muzzle of Bees
"They can write string parts as off-kilter as Danny Elfman and as energetic as Ra Ra Riot, and back it all up with a solid melody that makes you want to come back. I still feel as I did a year ago- this is one of the best indie bands around, and one that definitely deserves more attention…" - The Yellow Stereo
"Pale Young Gentlemen use cellos, violins, and pianos, among other things, to create their distinct sound. And they do what they do as good as, if not better than, anyone." - Tastes Like Chicken
"This isn't "Wail on the electric guitar and scream bloody murder" swagger or "Dig my blues riff and my street cred" swagger or even "Be awed by my laptop skills" swagger--it's "We know exactly what we're doing and don't really sound like anyone else" swagger. The best kind, in other words." - Fingertips
"Though still vocally arranged in deliberately disorganized harmony, as in the band's self-titled debut, this album is presented with more melody, more emotion, and, in general, more depth." - Amplifier Magazine
"Progressive yet embracing the past, full of fit and flourish without ever sounding fanciful, Black Forest (Tra La La) is one of the most unique and glorious albums of the year." - Pop Matters