To start with, the press release, a distracting amalgam of tongue-in-cheek warbling and seemingly earnest attempts to encapsulate each song by the principle songwriter, Casimer Pascal. This may seem like a straightforward enough enterprise, but by lending context to each song, Pascal alters the way in which the album is received. On their own, the lyrics—as integrated into the music and in written form—have an associative feel to them. These brief explications claim (falsely or not) that they are constructed on coherent narratives, concrete events. Whether or not one prefers music contextualized in this manner or not is a matter of preference. However, in this particular case, Pascal is roughening up the edges of his pomp-driven music, yielding stories of a character, himself, which reveal traits not evident in the body of the work. He introduces youthful squalor and whimsical malice into the grandiose workings of Pas/Cal’s debut album.
I Was Raised on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Laura was preceded by three EPs from the Detroit collective, the last of which was Dear Sir, released in 2006. The title track was remarkable for the way it cloaked its immediacy in the ballast of heavy reverb and a frantic rhythm section. Unfortunately, there is nothing comparable to be found on the full-length.
The dominant aesthetic here is centered on the multiplying, detonation and reconfiguration of classically pop elements. The hooks are huge and various, ubiquitous and, often, fantastic. Most tracks (the two short ones that comprise the “Suite Cherry,” and not composed by Pascal, are notable exceptions) are filled to the point of bursting. One cannot help but be impressed by the magnificent volume of ideas that the band is able to incorporate into a pop song. Granted, five of 12 songs stretch beyond the five-minute mark, but, even when taking that into account, they are still singular in the way structure and instrumentation are in the debt of, not formula, but invention.
But that duality—adherence to tried and tested formulas, familiar to listeners, and less linear forms predicated on individual imagination—should not be reduced to a bad versus good dynamic. It is certainly praiseworthy that Pas/Cal are willing, and able, to tread new territory, to sculpt each song into its own, unique form; but at times their compositions are deflated by the virtuosity with which they are pieced together. While their ambition and sensibility merit them mention alongside current stalwarts of idiosyncratic, prolix pop, Of Montreal and The New Pornographer, Pas/Cal is yet to develop the art of discrimination to the same level as these groups. The method does not yet match the materials.
I Was Raised opens impressively. “The Truth Behind All the Vogues She Sold” and “You Were Too Old for Me” are its strongest songs. “You Were Too Old for Me” is the longest and most irresistible song on the album, and, on top of that, one kinked right down the middle by the fact of its being a buoyant, pop juggernaut exploring the relationship between him and his dead father. It succeeds, like “The Truth Behind,” by achieving a balance between the spangled charm of form and content in unison, where form is the structure of its composition and the music (instruments, words and production, all) are content. My complaint about the album as a whole is that Pas/Cal impresses more by their skill at composition than by the quality of their compositions. That said, I applaud the way they leave the workings of their songs out in the open and force listeners to negotiate the opulent wonder of the music in relation to the distancing realized through their refusal to adhere to standard forms.