The Pale Pacific - Urgency (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Pale Pacific

Urgency (2005)


The Pale Pacific have been around for 11 years, under one name (the Pale) or another (their current moniker). How they can just now deliver a record like Urgency, which sounds fresh, endearing, and really, downright enjoyable is likely a mere testament to the band finally hitting its stride and consequently delivering quite an impressive entry into its style, and one of the more modest, emotional indie pop records in recent memory all the same.

While Death Cab for Cutie is the first band most are likely to bring up as a reference point to the Pale Pacific's sound (and rightfully so, noticeably in the band's atmospheric arrangements and for the most part, singing expressions), a few of the tracks could pass for the indie pop version of the Casket Lottery. "Sucker Punch" and "Fortune Folds" are two of the album's best offerings; they're both stunningly emotionally gripping songs, both with choruses pulling so tensely on the heartstrings it could split the proverbial threads. The Casket Lottery may never have been big on the chorus formula, but the Pale Pacific build to theirs with that same sense of slow, manipulated craft. Death Cab know how to treat their songs with peaks and valleys in the most subtle of places, especially in that Ben Gibbard's voice, soft, consistent, and gentle, rarely explores a range (save for the band's latest effort). Here on Urgency, the buildups are more obvious, musically and vocally, but similarly gradual, until they burst into a loud, grand and somehow pleasantly cacophonous ruckus of distorted, collapsing guitars and a yearning vocal front carrying just what the album's title bears mention of, specifically in these five-minute, nearly choked up cuts.

All through Urgency is a reserved manner of observing one's mid-life crisis. The two aforementioned string-tuggers both resonate in different ways; "Sucker Punch" -- seemingly hinting at things to come with warning signals going off through its earlier goings -- is thoughtfully pessimistic ("is what we loved in this family only in my head?"), while "Fortune Folds" seems hopeful in loss ("find me again / or whatever you want / it never ever stops / even if you do"). However consistent this theme is, its varied moods it's expressed through is just as arresting. "Identity Theft" can easily be summarized as 'pensive;' its course is paranoid and jumpy, feeling blatantly anxious, culminating in an equally morose but similarly driving riff and singing combination in the chorus. "Your Parents' House" begins a bit more light-hearted musically and cautiously anticipatory than the rest of the record, but eventually backs off for bouts of misanthropy, a bi-polar expression best heard in the line "do you know your bait and switch will fool me every time?," sung hushed and with a head-bobbing pause for inhalation between every line; it's in this song as well that the singer's beautiful, reserved soprano is employed and it works within the song's confines quite well. "The Strangest Second Chance" is an uncomfortable ballad of sorts, apparently narrating a car crash of a band member who had just quit if I'm reading the few lines of the song correctly. However, it leads into another somewhat sardonically upbeat number in "If Only She'd Leave Town," a further diametrically tense collection of moments, nicely. The last third of the record drags a bit, but things eventually end on a fantastic note in closer "Fall to Place," softly flowing with lightly brushed acoustics and another well-integrated usage of the soprano voice that could go toe-to-toe with young challenger Aaron Marsh of pseudo-label mates Copeland, and probably win, too.

Here's to hoping Urgency doesn't go overlooked, as it's a remarkably sincere and at times heartwreching record that's better than anything even its parent label has ever put out. Sure, it bears somewhat blatant similarities to equally appreciable acts, but lying within is a cynicism expressed in tender, beautiful ways and an adventurous, metaphorical attempt of digging oneself out of crisis-like situations, giving it, more than many other albums, an even stronger sense of...well...urgency.

Sucker Punch
Identity Theft
Fortune Folds

Tied to a Million Things
Your Parents' House
If Only She'd Leave Town