Nothing’s been announced as yet, but don’t be surprised when the news comes out that this or that label has snagged Pale Grey Lore for a pressing of their self-titled debut. The band has hinted at a vinyl issue in 2017 for the as-of-now-self-released offering, and with the level of songcraft they show throughout, the sheer efficiency of the material, it just seems like too prime an opportunity to pass up putting on a platter.
Comprised of brothers Michael (guitar/vocals) and Adam Miller (drums) and bassist Donovan Johnson, the trio got their start in 2014 and so it seems fair to consider them a relatively new project, having played locally around Ohio, but with the nine tracks/32 minutes of Pale Grey Lore, they dive headfirst into influences classic and modern and come out of the process with a crisp execution and an identity of their own. That would be enough to have it make sense for someone to pick them up — bands have been signed for far less — but the hooks and the performances only let them shine all the more.
Stylistically cohesive across the front-to-back span, the album shies away neither from classic psych-pop, as highlight centerpiece “She Radiates” shows with its theremin and trippy soloing, nor from the modern cult stoner crunch of “Black Sun Rise.” Songs run in the three-to-four-minute range exclusively, and though moods vary, among the factors most tying the record together one cut to the next is the mindful structuring that seems to be the root of their approach. They sound like a band with a whiteboard in the rehearsal space, but at the same time have more to offer in melody and groove than just being able to put together a verse and chorus in a way that makes sense.
To wit, the swath they cut through modern heavy rock is pretty deep. One can hear ’90s vibes in the poppy “Life in the Hive” and the later “Woe Betide Us,” Michael seeming to move into and out of a British accent with ease, but opener “The Conjuration” rolls out a groove that finds common argument with Elephant Tree‘s recent self-titled debut, and the key infusion in the penultimate “Tell the Masters” and riff of closer “Grave Future” add a cultish feel that seems to speak to life after Uncle Acid.
There are sonic differences, but I’d also say that what Pale Grey Lore are doing with reimagining post-grunge ’90s alt-rock isn’t all that dissimilar in process to what Demon Lung do to classic doom — a refresh of an established sound that seeks to put its own stamp on familiar themes. Quality of songwriting might be a factor in that comparison as well, even though, again, each group is on its own wavelength. Still, these impressions persist and Pale Grey Lore‘s debut makes an impressive melting pot for them.
Not at all haphazard and less exploratory feeling than debuts often are, it carries a sense of confidence in what it wants to do and that it can make those ideas a reality — so of course it does. Even in darker moments like “Black Sun Rise” or “Woe Betide Us,” Pale Grey Lore don’t position themselves at such remove from the shimmer at the end of “Spiders” or “She Radiates” as to make their transitions jarring, and if anything, the album is done before the formula has a chance to really sink in.
Brevity can be a decisive advantage. I’m not sure Pale Grey Lore would work in the same way if it was 45-50 minutes long, and I’m not sure sacrificing the neatly-presented semi-psychedelic push of “Ruins” would be worth having the band flesh out the songs further or extended them somehow simply for the sake of doing so.
The ’90s revivalist psych-rock of “She Radiates,” for example, comes across so fluidly with its languid, echoing vocals, bouncing chorus riff and ’60s-worship solo that to mess with it would seem cruel. This material has obviously been worked on, hammered out, maybe even whittled down to get to the point it’s at, and Pale Grey Lore may decide as they move forward that they want a looser approach to songwriting, that they’re more suited to jamming out or something like that, but what they’ve done with their first album is show that the three of them — the two Millers and Johnson, together — can work as a single unit toward expressing musical ideas through craft.
They’ve shown that it’s not about who’s in the band, or any particular player necessarily — though Michael has several shining moments of tone and vocals — but about the songs they’ve come up with and executed as a group. That doesn’t always happen, but it’s a palpable sensibility throughout Pale Grey Lore, no matter how the vibe might change between “Woe Betide Us” and “Grave Future,” that brings the material together and helps create the linear front-to-back flow which, as in the best of cases, only makes individual tracks feel stronger as it goes.