Featuring a muscular mix juxtaposed with decadent melodicism and lyrical subject matter that touches on elements of traditional folk music, alternative country masterminds Pale Mara execute pure country might in their self-titled record, which is out this December. Though it’s somewhat shapeless design emphasizes the experimental qualities that this band has possessed since the very beginning, its endearing hooks and ascending melodies will leave even casual listeners spellbound and begging for more. Pale Mara aren’t a household name by any stretch of your imagination, but thoughtful ballads like “My Curse With the Canvas” and the stoic acoustic poetry of “Only Image” could be enough to change that.
“Bird” is one of my favorite songs on this album, and much like the freewheeling “Sun POV Song” it’s all the easier to appreciate because of its crisp, pop-friendly mix. “Sun POV Song” shimmers like a reflecting sun on an undisturbed lake, discharging sparkling guitars that war with each other for our attention. “Bird” has a Beatles sort of flavor to its primary hook, but it isn’t a throwback track. Percussion is almost an afterthought in this record; the beat, and the whole of the rhythm for that matter, is generated from the utterance of the words exclusively. I wouldn’t call this an album to bust a move to, but instead more of an exercise in Pale Mara’s inner emotional exploration that anyone can choose to partake in and relate to.
I didn’t get the feeling that Pale Mara were withholding anything from us stylistically or creatively in this record; I actually think that this album is much looser and more relaxed in comparison to 2016’s Votive. “Not Like I Used To” sounds like something that could have been born of an extended jam session, while “I Think I Am a Phoenix” and “More Than This Person” come across to me as being very personal and intimate in their origins. The duo have a lot to say to us here, and although some of the lyrical content is more enigmatic than most country songs, they consistently find a way to make their point musically.
“The Greenest Grass” could very well be the most rousing and moving of all ten songs on this album, and is arguably the most straightforward country composition that Pale Mara have penned in the studio to date. The muted guitar whispers from beneath the weight of the vocals and asks for us to consider the deeper meaning in the lyrics, which on their own represent a strain of Americana that is sadly missing from the majority of contemporary country releases. When it comes to a stop we’re halfway tempted to start it all over again to inspect its intricate subtext, which only becomes more interesting with each listen.
Most country records that garner the sort of attention that Pale Mara’s soon to be released full-length has been aren’t normally rooted in the wistful spirit of alternative music, but when it comes to this album no untried route or unproven method is left unexploited. It’s an overused statement, but there really is something for almost every taste on this release, which while embracing its experimental layout never becomes so avant-garde that we get lost in the indulgences of the music. Pick up Pale Mara’s self-titled LP this month and see what critics and fans alike have been waiting for; I have a feeling you’ll be happy you did.
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