Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Paper Chase: Now You Are One of Us

As I write this, there are probably more than a handful of rock critics and blog writers that are thanking the Paper Chase for releasing their latest full length on 666. After all, the allusions to Satan and evil and tongue in cheek creepiness that go along with the day's festivities provide the perfect "theme" in which to frame a story or review of a band that conjures up some creepy images themselves. And even though its pretty clear that the timing of the album's release was little more than a humorous and possibly self deprecating gimmick that the band and/or its label came up with for laughs and a little publicity boost, (Look, it worked!) you can bet that you'll read at least one review of Now You Are One of Us that draws on these themes, for better or worse.

This kind of thing might be somewhat helpful to the band on a national level, but the Paper Chase doesn't need any introduction in Dallas. In fact, other than that Polyphonic thing, the Paper Chase are probably the closest thing to a bona fide national indie band that this town has right now (you might be able to add Midlake to the list later this summer.) The members of the band are well known and respected around town for their musicianship and creative output, and frontman John Congleton has the distinction of being both a highly sought after producer and one of the more interesting figures in the Dallas music scene. Add in some strong record reviews from reputable magazines and websites nationwide, as well as the prestige of the Kill Rock Stars label, and you've got a local powerhouse with a realistic possibility of becoming a national one.

Needless to say, the Paper Chase are a band that commands a certain amount of respect around these parts, which is why I was somewhat surprised at how mediocre their new record seemed on first listen. The rhythmic, choppy noise and insanely dark lyrics that have come to define the band were certainly there, and it was clear from the get go that the record contains their most straight forward, carefully crafted and accessible material to date, which is a potentially exciting development. But for some reason, I just wasn't feelin' it. It was as if I was just a little indifferent to the whole thing.

As I listened a few more times, I began to pick up on what was going on a bit better, and started to like the record more and more. In fact, I recognized at some point that the album's first five songs probably make up the best stretch of any Paper Chase album to date, kicking off with the thumping bass, menacing percussion and twisting, angular guitars of " We Know Where You Sleep" (a quintessential Paper Chase anthem that sounds like no other band), and peaking with "Wait Until I get My Hands on You," a track that starts off with a haunted house opera vocal on loop that ends up exploding with an instantly memorable proclamation ("I'm Alive!") that turns the track into the best Paper Chase song I've ever heard. Elsewhere, the bare bones strings and sparse piano of the drumless "You Will Never Take Me Alive" is an incredibly catchy and effective example of minimalism at its best, and the pounding drum/bass/synth attack of "...And all the Candy You Can Eat" is a pretty good indication that the Paper Chase has absolutely perfected its relatively unique sound.

And that might be the only slight problem with the record. Well, one of two. The other is that the second half of the record seems to lose some of the boldness of the first half, dragging a bit at the end and becoming somewhat indistinguishable from one track to the next. I guess you could say that it loses some of its steam, but its nothing terrible, and most of the material is still pretty strong. But the main thing that seems to hold Now You Are One of Us back just a tad is not the strength of the material, but the fact that we've heard this all before. Of course, there is nothing wrong with a band having a sound, and the Paper Chase certainly has an interesting one. And there isn't anything wrong with a band perfecting that sound, which is what the Paper Chase has done here. Its just that long time fans might start to wonder where this band is headed, and if they are willing to start off in some new directions. If you liked previous Paper Chase records, you will certainly like this one just fine, and if you've never heard the Paper Chase before, this record is probably the best introduction you could get, which is why it could easily be a very successful release for the band on a national scale. The only problem is that I'm looking forward to watching these guys evolve, and I was hoping that they would skip a few steps in that process on this release. They didn't, and its not really a big deal because they've still made a very strong record. Its just that I don't want to become bored with a band that I really like, especially one that still actually creeps me out pretty much every time I hear them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, what can i say? i haven't heard it yet. never really been a huge paper chase fan though, but i always give them a chance.

to me they've always sounded like if centromatic had a dr. jekyll/mr.hyde thing, paperchase would be mr. hyde. (he's the scary one, right?)

3:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pAper chAse and Will Johnson have a split 7" where they cover each others songs.

8:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hated their last album. Just generic versions of their good early stuff. The 1st album's creepy piano stuff is the best still.

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anybody have an MP3 link to that Will/Paper Chase? It's a probably out of print 7-inch, and anyways I currently don't have a record player.

8:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



10:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lyrically comatose and sonically grandiose

connor oberst + the swans

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so now someone else has to gush about every band that contacts that site? DAMN where will they find such a necessary piece to the texasgigs puzzle?

11:07 AM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

it'll be tough.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha ha, you said "angular guitars." You're officially a rock critic.

8:33 PM  
Blogger stonedranger said...

damn it!

9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Will Johnson & pAper chAse split single is available on iTunes

12:35 AM  

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