Some families get along well, while others absolutely can’t stand each other. I’m not sure what the personal feelings are in the two families that coexist in New York-based Pablo, but what I do know is that when they all come together, they can create some stellar music. Pablo is comprised of two interconnecting families: the Schalda’s and the Strandberg’s. Led by lead vocalist and guitarist Paul Schalda, the band’s direct acoustic approach is often simplistic, though it’s beginning to attract attention due to the nature of Schalda’s clever songwriting, distinct vocals, and likable influences. Despite the band’s name, the band derives from pure Americana-based folk music. Schalda’s uniquely effective vocals are often bursting with emotion, with a slight amateur feel that only adds a genuine touch to Pablo’s already honest sound. His vocal style reminds me of a collective mixture between Isaac Brock and Jeff Tweedy, while the music’s obvious influences of Bob Dylan and Neil Young are complemented by contemporary artists such as Wilco and Silverchair. This is mainly due to the band’s natural sound, working mainly off an acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. An occasional sprinkle of piano or verse with a harmonica is spread throughout their material, though it remains straightforward for the most part on their debut album, Half the Time. On the album, Paul Schalda is backed by his brother William Schalda Jr. on piano, his wife Margaret on backing vocals, with the additional help of the Strandberg brothers, being Michael Strandberg on guitar and bass and William Strandberg on drums. The father of both Schalda boys even gets his own part on the album, as William Schalda Sr. supplies the harmonica on the opener “Wall St.” and the closer “Til We Die”. If the name Paul Schalda sounds familiar to you, you may know have known him as the frontman for Three Steps Up or Awek. His brother William was also a member of The Realistics, a glam-punk band from Manhatten. Both have been creating music prominently since the 90s, with Paul Schalda’s approach being heavily influenced by Pavement. Your first listen to Pablo will most likely echo these comparisons as well. While they have been separated musically for most of their careers, it appears that the brothers finally have rekindled their musical chemistry in Pablo. The band has already made a name for themselves, headlining sold-out shows with the likes of Matt Pond PA and Brendan Benson along their originating East Coast.
“Wall St.” is a subtle opener. While perhaps not exactly representing the entire tone of the album, it is a gentle rendition that is initially only accompanied by the soft strum of an acoustic guitar. Eventually a few slight keyboard chords emerge with the effective use of William Schalda Sr.’s harmonica. Like many songs on Half the Time, the song works off a standard melody with a few simple instruments comprising it, until an explosion of sorts occurs toward the end of the song. In “Wall St.”, the event takes place at 02:28. An electric guitar solo is suddenly thrown into the mix with an increasing amount of harmonics and percussion. The lyrics are honest and simple, as Paul Schalda muses about the typical life of an aging individual as he contemplates the importance of occupation and marriage, with a certainty that his fate in the afterlife is decided already regardless of what he does. With a repetition that “Everything that seems important to me I leave to my life”, Schalda seems content in his own dreary world. The same can be said for “Loser Crew”, which is a better demonstration of Pablo’s style. The song is more upbeat, though the structure is typically the same. The additional vocals by Kevin Devine are a nice mix, though the typical structure of a simple melody eventually picked up by a more explosive version is recognizable, as it takes place at 01:41 with less surprise but more of a build-up than “Wall St.”. Still, the song provides enjoyment with lyrical emotion, with lines such as “I can’t get out of my fucking shadow, there’s a mystery to me” portraying Pablo’s self-imposed bitterness. The emotion works though, as the musical style is raw and gritty enough to handle it. “Focus” is more in the vein of pop, being one of the rare instances where a simple enjoyable hook led by keys and a simple chord change shines more prominently than lyrical or emotional depth. Half the Time is a generally consistent album that is musically coherent and enjoyable. Any fans of indie-folk should definitely give this one a look. It was released on October 24th on Curb Appeal Records.