Folk-rock melodies clash with abstract country grooves in Pale Mara’s all new self-titled album, which puts the sonic limits of American pastoral music to the test in ten stylishly designed songs. Pale Mara have built a rather sterling reputation in the time that’s passed since their inception, and this LP embodies the tonality of their music without cutting any corners or appeasing mainstream marketing demands. Acoustic gems “Not Like I Used To,” “Only Image” and “More Than This Person” fuse elements of 70’s folk music with a rollicking country beat that is patient and yet compellingly tortured. Lyrically Pale Mara hold nothing back from us here, producing tracks that evoke deep emotions through rich poetry accompanied by harmonies that touch on the most treasured elements of the American songbook.
“Only Say It If You Mean It” and “My Curse With the Canvas” sport countrified bones, but there’s an undeniable psychedelic skew that makes their melodies so much more searing than they would have been otherwise. Pale Mara employ a very indulgent, beefy mix on the bulk of these tracks, and though the narrative of the lyrics is never lost in the thick reverb it’s pretty easy to become hypnotized by the droning nature of the music. “The Greenest Grass” sounds more like a dreamscape than it does a Nashville-stylized single, and if given a little more room to spread out in a live setting I think it would come off even more anthemic than it does in the refined format we find it in here.
None of this material is overly reliant on prose to make a statement, but to say that “Sun POV Song,” “I Think I Am a Phoenix” and “Blue Dream” aren’t all the more blistering thanks to their enigmatic lyricism would be criminally inaccurate. The music in these songs is breathtakingly airy and soft, but the words manage to cut through their silky vitality seamlessly. Ironically Pale Mara’s self-titled effort would be a wondrous post-rock album if you were to remove all of the vocals, but at the same time its jarring postmodernism would be significantly watered down, leaving only the remnants of what is undisputedly a masterpiece of a record.
If you dig smart folkmusic that doesn’t exchange its rough, unvarnished edges for predictability andsorted craftsmanship that fits in with the mainstream, Pale Mara’s latestrelease is definitely worth checking out. I’m reticent to call this record astraight up country album because in reality it’s so much more diverse andexperimental than the branding would ever allow for. Pale Mara have cultivateda very unique sound that rebels against what most of us have come to associatewith modern country music, and yet it’s nucleus has all of the familiar charmsand simplicity of the genre at its creative peak. They’ve developed anaesthetic that is entirely their own, but with the right platform to shine Ithink that Pale Mara have the potential to become one of the more influentialbands in the future of country. This record certainly makes a lastingimpression, but I’ve come to expect as much out of this exciting band.