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Album review: Pale Hearts - Hollowtown

Album review: Pale Hearts - Hollowtown

A shift has taken place. Balance granted once again to the world. Emotionally thought-out sleaze has reared its head on the Kansas prairie. Pale Hearts are alive.

Like frontman Rob Gilaspie’s former band­—the sadly departed wonder that was The Spook Lights—Pale Hearts channel The Cramps in disturbing and distinctive ways on their debut Hollowtown. The band masterfully blends elements of surf, punk, rockabilly, Latin, new wave, and even grunge to make a sound that is fully formed, complete, and unique. Always a twisted, off-kilter force of nature, Gilaspie’s vocals are more Richard Hell than Lux Interior this time around. The tone and body of his lyrics has changed as well, and for the better.
While still certainly offbeat (he sings about fucking a hole in a phone book on the record’s title track. Ahhh, classic Rob) the last year has been one filled with tragic loss, financial setbacks, and the collapse of a long-term relationship has caused a shift. Now, Gilaspie seems to be a changed man, unafraid to stand out front and exorcise his pain through rockabilly-fueled yelps, screeches, and screams; to say what he is thinking without coating it in layer upon layer of camp. The honest excitement and joy that he conveys during his live performances translates perfectly to tape on Hollowtown, while the band makes fantastic, strangely serene surf-influenced rock ‘n roll to feed the schizophrenic fire of the album.
Where The Spook Lights, while great at times, could be limited in scope, Pale Hearts are a band more than capable of reining it in or filling the horizon with sound, and it shows on Hollowtown. Rob Kemp’s guitar on “Breakheart Mambo” sounds as though it came straight from a David Lynch film; sauntering around the room with Mike Young’s drumming filling the song with restrained power as Gilaspie takes shots at a presumed former lover. “You made the scene on your back / you’ll go out the same way.” 
“Motorsports” is the song that feels most likely to make it to the radio. Melinda Robinson’s bass work is of a quality that would make Joy Division’s Peter Hook proud, razor sharp and ominous, while her background vocals bring a soft, otherworldly touch to Gilaspie’s wounded words. An amazing sonic feat considering the entire album was recorded and mixed in drummer Mike Young’s bedroom.
Hollowtown takes many paths; there is lamenting the loss of love (“Moon in the Gutter”), straight up weirdo surf interplanetary sleaze (They Pass for Human, High Plains Disko) and beauty (Motorsports). Hollowtown has powerful touches and velvet gloves, gnashed teeth and sincere smiles.
It is a weird record, not in a contrived way but genuine. This is who they are; forceful, delicate, talented and astonishing. Gilapsie has finally found the right band to help him make the record that has always been there, lurking just below the slime. Hollowtown left me off balance, not knowing where to go, which was up; all of these things are meant in a good way. It has been said that everyone has one good book in them. Hollowtown is The Pale Hearts epic novel. Dashell Hammett would be pleased.
The release party for Hollowtown is this Friday, May 24 at Frank’s North Star Tavern in Lawrence. Fake Surfers (Detroit) and Jocks will also be playing. Facebook event page. If you can’t make it out there, they’ll be at Black and Gold Tavern on Wednesday, June 5 with Deco Auto. Facebook event page.
--Danny R. Phillips

Danny R. Phillips has been reporting on music of all types and covering the St. Joseph, MO music scene for well over a decade. He is a regular contributor to the nationally circulated BLURT Magazine and his work has appeared in The Pitch, The Omaha Reader, Missouri Life, The Regular Joe, Skyscraper Magazine, Popshifter, Hybrid Magazine, the websites Vocals on Top and Tuning Fork TV, Perfect Sound Forever, The Fader and many others. 


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