Just look at that picture; a cello, stiff postures, period clothing, a guy in suspenders gripping an acoustic. The Pale Young Gentlemen had me scared before I even cracked open their eponymous debut. Would this be the work of a cut-rate Decemberists, drooling over literature and making parlor games out of pop music. Or could it be the work of some group huffing the same Eastern-Euro fumes smelt by Beirut's Zac Condon? Truth be told, it's a little of both, but in the best way possible. You're going to get a bit sea-sick within Pale Young Gentlemen's adherence to trad-instrumentation and Muse Machine pretension (the kids gotta latch onto somethin'), still it's charming, pulling a listener into a forgotten time that sounds equally like today.
There's plenty of drama, pure melodrama, to be seen here. As if Madison, Wisconsin lends a man nothing in environmental atmosphere and forces one to the stages hidden in stuffy high schools and community theaters. Let's think of those Great Lake States as a mini/little Scandinavia, taking great pride in the stoic...the nuance of songwriting, expressing human tragedy through artistic means. Bergman on overdrive, or Red Bull. Matthew Reisenauer has that voice, much like Rufus Wainwright or Antony, it's arresting in its theatrical grip, a tad of acting (the faux-Brit enunciations, the stuttered emotion), but perfect foil to the weeping melancholy of his piano playing.
There's really no need for cello, or chanted choir, or bass, or guitar for that matter on this disc. Songs like "Saturday Night" and the gripping finale, "Single Days" get their point across simply through Reisenauer's fragile narrations. Randy Newman gets many props from the band and as such it's warranted. Imagining Randy Newman's soundtrack to The Point, maybe Pale Young Gentleman should be producing their own show of morality amongst the societal -- only it would include characters named Nikolai and Fraulein, clad in knickers and cravats. It's totally cool to hearken back to a time your generation never knew as long as you can sense it into song; making us all wonder what it felt like.