The Pale Young Gentlemen's rousing sophomore effort finds dramatic front man Michael Reisenauer pushing back the piano bench and concentrating on alternately overheated and languid vocal performances. Some of the old Coldplay influence is still apparent on pop-leaning fare like the unabashedly erotic "Marvelous Design." But much of the time, Reisenauer and the other half dozen members of PYG caper, trip and moan through stylish art rock that makes full use of the band's stately three-piece string section.
That doesn't mean the listener need indulge in a preprandial sherry or two in order to appreciate what this sophisticated septet is doing. Some tunes might benefit from a familiarity with the folk themes employed by Reisenauer's beloved Brahms. On the other hand, standout tracks like the swelling art song "Coal/Ivory" and the brisk Eastern European folk tune-cum-rocker "The Crook of My Good Arm" are sure to set even the most casually shod foot to tapping.
Can't say that I've unpacked every line of Reisenauer's modern-day takes on romantic literature. But in any case, Black Forest (Tra La La), as a whole, has something to do with a deep-feeling swain and a predestined love that has a little difficulty cohering. And frankly, Goethe himself would probably have smiled at Reisenauer's warm musings on the most difficult emotion. ("We Will Meet" finds him sighing "I had a dream, you had your doubts/Love, it won't bear the weight of a crown" as a gently stroked harp quavers in the high end.)
Will any of this translate in the nightclubs and beer halls that PYG are accustomed to playing? Perhaps. But it's a dead certainty that the rich, string-driven music that floods each track on the new disc would get a much better shake in a true concert hall. With luck, some encouraging national press and strong performances on an upcoming national tour will bump them up to just those sorts of venues sooner rather than later.