Pale / In the Time of Dangerous Men / A-Blake Records
Remember the “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” commercials? In the dozen or so times that I’ve listened to Pale’s sophomore full-length, I continue to find it hard to believe that this band wasn’t born on the other side of the great big pond known as the Atlantic Ocean. Not that I’m a great connoisseur of this style of music but my CD shelves do contain a few rows of releases by bands labeled “Brit Rock” and most of those releases are circa the early ’00s. Pale seemingly fits on this shelf even though the band is from Houston, Texas; so much for the “only country music comes out of Texas” stereotype.
My first introduction to Pale came via their video for “Catastrophic Skies”, a video that I described in an issue of The Big Takeover as a mix of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and The Lost Boys” – a visually stunning treat with a compelling story and sound. That song, originally intended to wind up on one of The Twilight soundtracks (it was bumped for a song by some guy named Thom Yorke), isn’t even the highlight on In The Time of Dangerous Men and that’s saying a lot. This is an album that should be listened to as such, not merely a collection of radio-ready singles of which you can pluck one or two of your favorites from the order-on-demand world of iTunes.
For the most part, throughout the dozen tracks, Pale rides a steady wave, with a few crests and dips here and there, so that the songs blend into each other. The time between seeing the “Catastrophic Skies” video and hearing the full length was a few months and I had to check the tracklisting a few times because I thought the song I was listening to was the same one from the video.
Most times, I was wrong.
The opener, “Bad Intel” comes out of the gate strong, with a crisp guitar line breaking through the surface. “That Sinking Feeling” is one of the few slight deviations from the overall canvas that Pale has painted – the guitars are a little more poppy, a little more clear and unprocessed. It reminds me of something from The Shys’ Astoria CD.
Putting a finger on a comparable contemporary alt-rock band to Pale is tough as all too often, American bands substitute aggressive guitar playing for bone-chilling passion, incorrectly believing that listeners need a shot of adreneline rather than something tasty that can be savored over time.
But Pale’s Calvin Stanley does have a recognizable voice (though I’ll be damned if I can tell you who it reminds me of – maybe, just maybe, a mix of Catherine Wheel’s Rob Dickinson and The Cure’s Robert Smith?) that, while not in the same range as Jeff Buckley, Chris Martin (Coldplay) or Matthew Bellamy (Muse), is filled with the same gut-wrenching emotion that have made those guys so successful.
“My Final Warning” is a great demonstration of how Pale can evoke strong feelings without beating listeners over the head with punishing riffs and the chorus flies straight up into the clouds, breaking through from an overcast and gloomy day into bright blue skies. As non-threatening as that track is, “Our Lone Star Shines” is a fact-paced, straight-forward Muse-meets-U2-style rocker that showcases drummer Travis Middour and guitarist Robb Moore and breaks the general malaise of the rest of the album.