Portraits opens with urgent, banging, staccato keyboard, followed by Mack Gilcrest's theatrical voice soaring: "The robots come to kill me, summer 2003!" And the album doesn't really slow down from there. Pale People, a Missoula trio that has gathered a small loyal following for the same exact reason it has trouble booking local shows (it's a weird band) has bottled the magic of its odd, fun, but not super-danceable music expertly on its second album.
Portraits consists of 10 tracks, each titled with a first name. As you might guess, each song is a mini-autobiography: Jason, the world's greatest Tetris play. Carol, an elderly woman in the last of her days. Steven, an insane, washed-up preacher. Annabelle, a little girl seeking reality television fame. The music is as diverse as the portraits—listen for splashes of trombone, accordion and toy piano—with Gilcrest backed by Kurt Skrivseth on bass and guitar and Brian Tremper on drums.
The band self-labels its music as "Broadway punk" or "dark cabaret," and that's accurate. With influences like Dresden Dolls and musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim, Pale People and Portraits lean heavily on high drama and performance. The album's biggest weakness, certainly, is that it is not a live, in-person show, which is where the band shines with energy and art and quirk—maybe even a little madness. But Gilcrest's strong songwriting and lyrical skills make the album worthwhile even if you can't see the band in the flesh.
Pale People play an album release party at Free Cycles Fri., April 14, at 7:30 PM. Free. 18-plus.