Black Forest (Tra La La) is Pale Young Gentlemen’s second proper recording and its first on Madison’s Science of Sound. Their self-titled debut was instantly praised by all who heard it as unpretentious and full of life. It came at a time when indie music was beginning to corrupt from the inside and PYG seemed to be coming from the honest world of Wisconsin with this unfiltered mix of everything that was sonically satisfying about the orchestral dance without the image consciousness of a J. Crew advertisment.
Black Forest is a continuation of that incidental success without the reformatting that has bogged down other young acts desperately trying to adhere to some made up expectation. The Andrew Bird vocals and somber dance numbers are still there, but there is no real reason to depart from something that seems to work so well. “The Crook Of My Good Arm” is a perfectly paced song that packs a tale of premature aging into less than three minutes of spastic dance music controlled by a back woods rhythm section. “Kettle Drum (I Left A Note)” sounds like an entire Jon Brion film score condensed into a five-minute tale of complacent apathy. This level of sophistication masquerading as simple beauty is exactly what makes this album worthy of contemplation. It is a unique perspective, but it is a perspective of the widespread feeling of uncertainty common among younger generations.
If the band benefited from a certain trend of multi-layered ex-orchestra students discovering fashion, they have taken the road less traveled with Black Forest. Bands such as Vampire Weekend, Ra Ra Riot and Beirut took the aesthetic and ran with it to major labels and geographic hubs, but PYG are firmly centered around exploring the weirder aspects of quirk. They embrace the desperation that forces a lonely woman to knit a horrible sweater instead of humoring her isolation as pathetic through visual irony. They are aware of the possible desolation that faces alone adults and they invite any disturbance of this railed path.
The album is full of densely complicated ideas thrown around like a light wind: “We will meet some day soon/ it’ll terrify you,” sings Michael Reisenauer in such a delicate yet energized voice that it’s too gentle to actually be dramatic. But the lyrics and themes embedded in the album coincide with modern playwrights like Churchill or Havel without the sarcasm giving a more sympathetic perspective on the absurd. Produced by Beau Sorenson (Death Cab For Cutie, Sparklehorse), some of the emotional dwelling is emphasized more than the weird wisps of devastation, but there are enough moments of originality to signal a progression rather than a refocusing on a niche market. There is more growth to come from PYG, but whether the pressure of fleeting movements actually takes hold of the band or not is impossible to tell. For now, Black Forest stands as an honest statement from a focused band.