On first viewing, the cover of this Philadelphia trio’s EP is more than reminiscent of the 1999 Counting Crows release ‘This Desert Life’, although it’s likely both bands’ sleeve art was influenced by René Magritte.   Just as it’s quite obvious who influenced their choice of art, a few bars into their debut, there’s little doubt about which rock subgenre Pale Autumn’s music falls into.

The combination of Nick Santone’s vocal style and the clean-ish guitar which begins the opening number (and title cut) brings more than a hint of a post-grunge style; although to begin with, the band favour a lightness of touch in places that various similar bands lack. The track has a slow burning first half, with Santone’s vocal taking a leading role.  Behind him, though, Bobby Hall’s drum patterns help maintain listening interest.  For the second part of the number, things fall into a rather more predictable pattern, as the guitars are cranked and its mid-paced nature doesn’t offer the listener anything they won’t have already gleaned from Staind’s more reflective moments, or indeed, any number of similar alternative bands of the naughties.  It’s a strong number, although it’s rather mid-paced nature doesn’t necessarily make it the best opening statement.  Chosen as the EP’s single release, perhaps ‘Marionette’ would have been more suited to that position; it certainly has a far more upbeat feel.  With slightly funky chords, it’s a song which sounds more positive all round.  Pale Autumn occupy a musical space which allows Pat McGraw to lay down a solid bassline,  while Santone delivers a few sharp chords here and there.  In terms of sound, it’s too heavy to have an obvious persuasion from Collective Soul or Matchbox Twenty, even though the overall mood occasionally hints at such influences.  Vocally, Santone appears a little more ragged than before, but it’s a vocal style which is very much in keeping with the up and down nature of the arrangement.

‘The Tides Return’ offers a slightly different side to the Pale Autumn’s sound, with the previous chunky guitar riffs replaced in the main by a brilliant rolling piano.  Since 90% of piano based rock is very cool, this presents the band in a much more interesting light. Here, they adopt a sound that’s not unlike The Fray, only much harder.  The piano really compliments Santone’s vocal and the lack of guitars throughout the song’s first half means bassist McGraw has more time in the spotlight.  Against the piano lines, his playing is unwavering.  By the time the guitars crash in near the end, things are more ordinary, but by then, ‘The Tides Return’ has already proved itself to be the EPs essential track.  The guitars, naturally, start to dominate once they arrive, but thankfully the piano hangs in there, still delivering a great melody underneath the riffs.

‘Postcards’ showcases the acoustic side of the band.  Naturally with Pale Autumn’s alt-rock/post grunge chops, the track doesn’t go the full-on acoustic route.  Those acoustics are blended with subtle electric leads, over which Santone’s vocal is decent enough.  The track builds gradually to a big rock climax where the band settles for a very safe musical territory.  You may have heard it all before, but listeners who enjoyed stuff by Tonic et al back in the early 00’s are likely to find enjoyment here.  The closing number, ‘Cemetery Leaves’ begins softly with a clean toned guitar and a suitably hushed vocal.  Live sounding drums and a warm bass provide great accompaniment.  At the moment where the big rock part would normally make an appearance, the band shows a great restraint. Those guitars are turned up ever so slightly and Santone’s vocal finds a little more muscle, eventually culminating in his strongest performance.  While it doesn’t quite have the all-round magic of ‘The Tides Return’, it’s certainly a fitting way to finish things off.

On this EP, Pale Autumn never break out of tried and tested musical ideas, resulting in a sound which isn’t especially original. Despite that, the song writing is strong throughout and musical input from each of the three musicians is solid.  A few more pianos would certainly have lifted the bar even higher, but even so ‘Final Act’ is a great debut.   Even if the whole thing doesn’t grab you after a couple of listens, downloading ‘The Tides Return’ is strongly advised.

July 2011