Pale Mara Releases Self Titled LP

A tepid acoustic guitar slips through the silence and breaks the barrier that exists between an artist and their audience in the opening bars of “Not Like I Used To,” which acts as our foray into Pale Mara’s eponymous new album. Vocals echo against a patterned backdrop of tight drumming and simple piano, trying their best to keep afloat amidst the waves of tonality that are grinding against each other. “Bird” emerges from the ashes of “Not Like I Used To” ready to capture our hearts with a fluttering melody that is as fleeting as those special moments before the sun disappears beyond the horizon. A psychedelia-drenched sonic rhythm carries us away into “I Think I Am a Phoenix,” and without batting an eye the band lays into one of 2018’s greatest country ballads.


“I Think I Am a Phoenix” is a country song that desperately wants to be a jangle pop track, and the stylized battle between the two sides of the band’s tonality becomes just as much a focal point as the riddle-like lyrics are. “Only Say It If You Mean It” is a calm center in the storm that rages between the introductory portion of the record and the chunky middle tracks, and it sets us up for the emotionally charged “Only Image” perfectly. The fluidity between the songs is an added feature that allows for the substance of the tracks to feel much more theatrical and larger than life, but Pale Mara don’t get over the top with this material – even when it might have been considered acceptable to do so.

“Sun POV Song” smolders but doesn’t really get fired up until after its second chorus, which mixed much higher than the first. All of the songs on Pale Mara’s self-titled record are mixed differently, and the dynamic between the strings and the drums in this track versus the more pensive “More Than This Person” or the unforgettable “Blue Dream” is much more compressive. For only being comprised of two musicians, this band has the presence of a full symphony orchestra outfitted with every kind of instrument imaginable. All of the melodies are conceived out of what listeners born post-2000 would consider archaic instrumentation, which speaks volumes about the natural tonality that this pair can deliver without the assistance of modern studio technology.


Pale Mara finishes us off with the piano requiem “My Curse With the Canvas,” which borrows a little from Blood on the Tracks-period Dylan but isn’t completely tethered to the folk king’s storied songcraft. “The Greenest Grass” gives us one last haunting acoustic harmony to think about before retreating into the deafening silence from which it arose, not dissimilar to the final credits rolling at the end of an epic motion picture. I wasn’t all that familiar with Pale Mara or the obscure style of countrified folk rock that they lit up 2016 with in their extended play Votive prior to hearing this record, but now that I have I’m forced to concur with the consensus of the indie music community; they’re easily one of the more important country acts to watch entering 2019. They end the year on a high note with this self-titled affair and give us plenty of reasons to follow them into the future on the strength of their absorbing and ever-evolving sound.

Gwen Waggoner