Fingertips Flashback: Pale Young Gentlemen (from September 2008)

I decided not all Flashbacks need to go spelunking too deeply into Fingertips’ cavernous past when I heard this song the other day and realized: a) how good it is; b) how it never really caught on, as far as I can tell; c) how it seems like it came out longer ago than it actually did at this point; and d) how good it is. And did I mention that it’s a really good song?

Pale Young Gentlemen

[from “This Week’s Finds,” Sept. 23, 2008]

“The Crook of My Good Arm” – Pale Young Gentlemen

I love the musical and lyrical drama that Pale Young Gentlemen manage to pack into not even three minutes here. We first hear only a cello, playing a jerky line with what sounds like a mysterious rhythm until we understand that it’s actually just accelerating into the right tempo for the song. Kinda fun. A crisp acoustic guitar joins in, and a violin (or maybe a viola? or both?). By the time front man Mike Reisenauer sings those not-your-typical-indie-fare opening lines—“You start to worry ’bout your health/As you reach a certain age”—this song has achieved liftoff (aided by a drum that enters with exquisite timing).

And it’s really only just starting; the rest of the way, “The Crook of My Good Arm” all but explodes with melodic vigor and instrumental dexterity: the strings play rascally melodies and rhythms, a cowbell clangs at precisely the right moments, and Reisenauer, his voice vaguely processed, handles the theatrical rhyme scheme (check out the spiffy A-B-C-C-B pattern in the verse, leading into the titular phrase) with the casual authority of someone who’s more interested in telling a story than simply singing. Sounding nothing like rock bands that are typically associated with the word, I’d say that Pale Young Gentlemen (a seven-person outfit that includes by the way three women) possess great swagger. This isn’t “Wail on the electric guitar and scream bloody murder” swagger or “Dig my blues riff and my street cred” swagger or even “Be awed by my laptop skills” swagger—it’s “We know exactly what we’re doing and don’t really sound like anyone else” swagger. The best kind, in other words.

The Gents were previously featured on Fingertips in Nov. 2007. “The Crook of My Good Arm” is a song from the band’s second CD, Black Forest (Tra La La), which will be released next month on the Madison, Wis.-based label Science of Sound. MP3 via the band.

ADDENDUM: Pale Young Gentlemen are alive and well and living in Madison, Wisconsin. There may be fewer of them now than are captured in the picture above. They are currently working on their third album. Visit them here.

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