Monday, August 11, 2008

Record Review: Pas/Cal

[This review is re-posted from Music in Review Online. Check it out!]
Pas/Cal 
I Was Raised On Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura
[2008, Le Grand Magistery]


Pas/Cal have yet to reach their target demographic. After three critically well-received eps, and wider exposure due to placement in Saturn and Payless Shoe Source commercials, the Detroit group still exists in relative anonymity. It’s a shame, since Pas/Cal are fine purveyors of smart, timeless pop. Their debut album, I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke and Laura is exuberant and ambitious, and will hopefully be heard and appreciated by many.

Casimir Pascal’s witty lyrics detail reminiscences and narratives of youth from a wistful, nostalgic perspective. The album begins with “The Truth About All the Vogues She Sold,” the lamentable tale of a fifteen year old model who has her naiveté exploited and youth “stolen”. Following is the album’s best track, “You Were Too Old For Me.” It’s a story that finds a young narrator who is hopelessly in love with (and afraid of losing) a much older woman. Both of those songs, in the tradition of Pas/Cal influences the Smiths, marry upbeat, major key music to somber lyrics. Morrissey-esque self-deprecation pervades “Glorious Ballad of the Ignored” and the “Cherry Suite” in particular.

Not all of these vignettes of youth are lyrically morose, though. Contrarily, some of the songs are quite humorous. “We Made Our Way, We Amtrakked” is a short story of awkward situations involving mass transit, as well as a Kerouac-ian ode to the simple pleasure in adventure and travel, a sort of rebellion against the complacency that often accompanies old age. Anybody who hates hot weather (myself included) will find the anti-summer anthem “Summer Is Almost Here” very relevant, the singer detailing a litany of attributes worth loathing about the blazing quarter of the year.

            I was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke and Laura feels immediately familiar, due to pretty standard instrumentation and an overall inviting tone. Bouncy piano vamping and a range of warm, classic guitar tones abound. The drums are always crisp and tight, drummer LTD playing with technical precision and aplomb. Occasionally, analog synth leads and vintage organs embellish the arrangements (“Cherry Tree”, “Little Red Radio”, “Glorious Ballad of the Ignored”) further contributing to the timeless sound of this recording. Even Casimir’s demeanor shies away from the reticence of modern “indie rock”. His swagger rivals that of Jarvis Cocker, David Bowie, or Prince in their prime. Pascal’s wide-ranging tenor at times evokes comparisons to Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, Dan Bejar’s manic, syllable-laden spree, and Of Montreal’s charismatic Kevin Barnes.

            The lavish arrangements and song structures are the most exciting and original elements of the album. Though there are plenty of fantastic, very memorable hooks on I Was Raised…, the group completely eschews traditional song structures. Rather, their songs are sprawling and expansive, truly deserving the classification of “baroque pop”. Time signatures change twice within the first minute, and a flexible, stop/start rhythm continues for the rest of the first track. A few times, the band completely disregards genre strictures, and delves into new styles. The band embarks on a brief Latin Jazz bridge on “Dearest Bernard Living”, and even turns in a rousing gospel performance at the end of “O My Cherry.”

The album lags a bit toward the end, beginning with “Little Red Radio.” It’s a fun, upbeat song, but feels trite and too simple in the context of the album. The fact that “Summer is Almost Here” is followed by a song about Christmas growing near (“…Radio”) feels almost as if the band hoped to achieve some sort of conceptual underpinning, a goal that they definitely didn’t adhere to on the other ten songs. “Citizens Army Uniform” begins as a great song, but doesn’t have the sensibility to quit while it’s ahead, resulting in a jam session that must have been a lot of fun to record, but isn’t that fun to listen to.

            Casimir Pascal has admitted in an interview to obsessing over lyrical and minute musical details. His band’s debut full-length is indicative of this commitment to quality; the album is uniquely structured and arranged, but is still infinitely accessible. The first half is flawless, and “You Were Too Old for Me” is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. If the first six or seven songs were an ep, I’d have given this album four stars. Due to the slight lagging in the second half, though, Pas/Cal show that they still have some growing to do before they make a classic album. Still, I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Laura is one of the best indie pop albums of 2008, and deserves your immediate attention.

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1 comment:

Sandra said...

Congrats on getting that repost, kid!