If you were to assemble a playlist of spiritual predecessors of the Missoula band Pale People, you might want to take a few tunes by Stephen Sondheim and slot them next to the Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer."
The piano trio composes theatrically grand songs: miniature narratives with dramatic arcs about the interior lives of outsiders, killers and weirdos.
"The World is Yours" is the trio's third album in less than two years, following "Portraits" in March 2017 and "Bright Ideas" in February 2016.
They haven't radically changed the unusual sound they debuted with: pianist-vocalist Mack Gilcrest is the most idiosyncratic feature. A self-professed fan of Sondheim, he writes faux-operatic melodies and sometimes dense sequences of lyrics that you can imagine hearing during a musical. Since their early songs, he's learned to use the eccentricity of his voice, whether it's a howl or a mournful ballad. Originally a percussion and composition major, he knows the genres he's playing with. His heavy attack, backed by fellow music students bassist Kurt Svriseth and drummer Austin Graef, is a rock power-trio with piano instead of guitar. (Svriseth sometimes doubles on electric guitar.)
Gilcrest loves the possibilities of writing character sketches: "Excelsior" imagines the burden of the always-extraordinary life of an average preacher who has a superhero alter-ego. "Nemesis," an oddball tune in which a villain, not unlike a Bond foe, explains the all-consuming obsession with his enemy, in the form of pretty ballad ("Your shape waits in the bottom of every cup/You're the first thing on my mind when I wake up.") Similarly, "The Wicked Man" sets up a villain with funny lyrics and then provides him a humanizing backstory. Any of them could fit in a homemade Missoula version of Pixar movie, although it might not be one you'd show your kids.
They tread into more ambiguous territory on "There Are Bones Beneath Rattlesnake Elementary School," a tense and dark tune about a hidden graveyard and ultimately, the mortality we're oblivious to as children. "Crow Song" also points to a direction the band can pursue outside of explicit character studies.
As a whole, they sound like they've streamlined their interplay — the power-trio crescendos build carefully and there's less of the wild-card chaos from their first album. The production feels conceptually developed. On "The Wicked Man," for instance, percussion, background vocals, harmonica and ukulele all enter the mix and help set the right mood, widening the contrast between the lyrics and music that's the key to their weird sound world.
Speaking of oddity, they're on a prolific streak without having many places to play for a live audience. The album was released at the beginning of October and they haven't found a venue for an album release show. Is Missoula really that weird if a weird band has better luck booking a gig outside of town?