Other than that little album by a group named Radiohead, this debut by Pale Young Gentlemen may very well be one of the larger buzzed-about self-released albums of 2007 in terms of independent rock. The Madison, Wisconsin-based quintet plays a loose and jangling brand of cabaret pop that sounds something like a back alley (and less pretentious) version of Rufus Wainwright crossed with a bit of the Decemberists. With piano and cello as prominent instruments, and musical influences spanning the 20th Century.
It makes perfect sense that the release opens with a song titled "Fraulein," as singer Mike Reisenauer basically tells the tale of chasing a lover as jaunty piano/guitar/cello instrumentation dances around his affected words. His words have a slight tinge of a non-descript European accent (in the way that a fellow from the midwest might if he was trying to be a bit dramatic), but like the playful music they never seem out-of-place. "Me & Nikolai" keeps that slight bit of cross-Atlantic flair with the title characters, but drifts through sections of ballroom stomp and mellow stagger.
Unlike a lot of ambitious debuts, the Pale Young Gentlemen are incredibly efficient and pack just about every song with enough hooks, changes, and shifts to keep things interesting. "Clap Your Hands" is little more than an ode to grabbing your partner and doing the do-see-do, and the piano romper several nice changes in just under three minutes length. When the group drops things back to a ballad ("As a War"), they veer a lot closer to mainstream pop, but the lack of gloss on the release keeps things in line with the rest of the album.
With ten songs running almost thirty minutes exactly, there's not really any room for the group to wear out their welcome. As a whole, the release is a bit stronger on the front end, but it's charming enough for the duration that a couple weaker (and somewhat repetitive, given the bands thus-limited oeuvre) tracks don't hold it back too much. It's a well-crafted little debut that hopefully leads to even bigger and better things.