Friday, October 10, 2008

Pas/Cal -- I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura (2008)

Pas/Cal -- I Was Raised On Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura (Le Grand Magestry)

I picked up this album after hearing my friend Dale say some nice things about one of Pas/Cal’s previous EPs. The band kicked out three EPs before taking time off to work on this album. I need to pick those up, though I can’t imagine how they could be better than this album.

Pas/Cal has come up with one of the most ambitious pop LPs since the Lilys’ The 3-Way. The center of Pas/Cal’s sound is the pastoral sounds of The Kinks during the Village Green phase and the androgynous sounds of T. Rex. Like the Lilys, Pas/Cal uses these fey and fun ‘60s sounds as a springboard to imaginative compositions that aren’t content with simple verse/chorus/verse structures.

Of course, this also means that Pas/Cal also has something in common with ‘70s pop bands that tried to keep things memorable and melodic, while not just pounding home the hooks. Bands like 10CC, Split Enz, and Sparks, just to name a view.

The challenge when you are trying to be pop and yet not pop is to keep the songs from spinning out of control into either boredom or excessive preciousness. Perhaps Pas/Cal verges on the latter, but the twists and turns on these songs overcome that, in my book.

"Dearest Bernard Living" is just one example of the journeys that occur on this album. It starts with CSMR singing over chamberlin strings, with drums and more vocals coming in on the second verse. The song then goes from the stately verse melody to a jaunty Turtles-like interlude, with cool electric piano accompaniment. The song then twists into a brief bossa nova inflected section -- bossa nova with harsh guitar chords. Then it’s back to the original melody for a verse. As that winds down, Lauren Semivan’s violin moves the song into an upbeat resolution. And that’s just one track.

One of the band’s strengths is the immediacy of the melodies. As a result, whether it’s a sudden upturn or downturn in the melody or a tempo change, the songs always have an appeal that makes it worth repeat plays to grasp everything going on. On "You Were Too Old For Me", the band throws in about as many changes and different parts as "Bernard Living". The band wisely makes sure that the main melody keeps coming back (kind of like a great long free jazz piece), and then adds a couple hooky parts, which keep things from ever growing stagnant.

Not every song is a musical equivalent of San Francisco’s Lombard Street. If you want to hear Pas/Cal at its most straightforward, move on to "Summer Is Almost Here". The song pretty much works the same melody and chords, though playing out almost every variation possible on this pretty basic scheme. Likewise, the lyrics are full of offbeat observations like: "Now I could live with radiation/but the fashion of the season/is to expose one’s soul through their clothes."
The glam aspect that I mentioned comes through on the wonderful "O Honey We’re Ridiculous". On this song, drummer LTD gets to lay down a fairly steady beat. Of course, Pas/Cal does not settle for pure simplicity, adding flourishes and tricks throughout. Still, this is as ‘primitive’ as the band gets, with bass, drums, keyboards and plenty of guitars.

Towards the end of the disc, Pas/Cal links together three compositions on "Suite Cherry". The three songs are linked together by lyrics and mood. "Cherry Needs a Name" begins the proceedings, with lovely vocals and spacey moog sounds (‘spacey moog’ is redundant, I suppose). The suite moves from arty soft pop to the shuffling sounds of "Cherry Tree", with Naud (yes, these folks all use stage names) singing with a clear vocal tone. This song sounds like a homage to Love, The Millenium and other soft poppers from the ‘60s. This brief ditty sets up the climax, "O My Cherry".

This paean to Cherry celebrates her imperfections, which are numerous ("a tripped up stutter," "not well-read or informed," and "rheumatic" -- what’s not to love?). When Cherry responds to CSMR’s unique manner of winning her over, noting that she’s now 33 years old, he responds, "But even Christ got hung up on the early thirty blues/Yes even Christ!/O Jesus Christ’s got nothing on you..." Who wouldn’t fall for a line like that?

This album continues to reward further listening. Indeed, I’ve been wanting to review this for a month or so, and I keep hearing new things. This is simply one of the best albums of 2008.