The record is improbably constructed from blues piano, prog-rock synthesizer, indie-rock minimalist guitar solos, melodies slightly peppier than (but nearly as ominous as) the Bad Seeds' mid-'80s work, Mick Jagger phrasing, stately shuffle-drumming, and just a whole bag full of other things that maybe shouldn't work when you nail them all together . . . but somehow it parses. Don't ask me how. I've spun this record 10 times and I still can't decipher the code.
Formerly called Slaves, the recently renamed San Francisco-based Pleasure Forever still relies heavily on Andrew Rothbard's piano and vocal work, to the record's consistent benefit. Rothbard is proficient and expressive on the keys (think Faith No More, however, not Bruce Hornsby), and the album would undoubtedly suffer a great deal in his absence. But Joshua Hughes on guitars/stringed sundries, and David Clifford on drums and percussive whatnots, aren't simply providing background noise. The songs here, though built around Rothbard's piano lines, are designed and executed as group efforts without exception. Often enough the skeletal keyboard work becomes only one element in a much larger picture; the full-band workout that closes "Magus Opus," for example, is a genuine and impressive Who-style performance.
Pleasure Forever's love of minor keys and open-fifth intervals likely makes this album sound a bit more somber, in places, than they really mean it to. There's a fair amount of literate wordsmithery here, and not all of it as dire as "You and I Were Meant to Drown": "I can't for the life of me fathom retreat," sings Rothbard on that thudding cut, in a voice that sounds like he's been awake far too long to consider going to bed just yet. But one song later he's singing about waking up to sunshine and a migraine and ice in his veins, which you have to admit is pretty funny, no matter how growly or gravelly the vocal delivery.
In form and content, the nearest helpful comparison would probably be Sub Pop labelmates Screaming Trees. But Pleasure Forever's tuneful angst is quieter, cleaner, and more gently melodic. There's no keening distortion, no cathartic wailing; just the cool, even delivery of songs about depression, absence, bullets, hunger pangs and early graves. Unquestionably this is an album for late nights, but that only seems fair; undoubtedly, it's an album that emerged from late nights.