Papercuts Can’t Go Back

[Gnomonsong; 2007]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: maudlin, ballads, chamber pop, singer/songwriter
Others: Norfolk & Western, Belle and Sebastian, Bright Eyes, Vetiver

Jason Quever is Papercuts -- yet another crestfeller in the game of conversational pop music for softies. It's charming enough, loping about with dusty warmth. It's hard not to admire the mid-period-Dylan-like wistfulness of the instrumentation. But the singing style is that patently affected fop-boy sigh-sigh demurring, and it stops this reviewer from embracing the pretty sounds coming out of the speakers. I once read an interview (think it was Isaac Brock) where he griped about people criticizing the way he sings, saying something to the effect of 'like I can help that.' And it's definitely not the first time I've split hairs over vocal style. I'm sure Quever is just using what he's found to work best for him, and that's fine.

His voice actually does work quite well with the music, but its exceedingly familiar quality (often nearly identical to Andy Cabic's) is partly what keeps a pretty record from being an exquisite one. Can't Go Back is a solid recording, and there's no telling what would stick with repeated listens. As it wears on, though, the problem has more to do with an overdose of ornate. If I weren't reviewing this record, I'd have pressed stop three or four songs in. It's enough to make you never want to hear a crystalline tinkling piano arpeggio again. As “Found Bird” shows, even when the aw-shucks keening indie vox drop out, this guy is to unrestrained gorgeousness as Wolf Eyes is to unchecked aggression. It gets to be all too much.

Plus, there's just nothing really original here. And I don't care if I've written it a gazillion times; novelty is something worth striving for, if you don't want to be reduced to a cute little ad in the margins of a music rag. This record, while soft and cozy and catchy as you please, is ultimately not all that worthy of attention. Who knows, though -- maybe Zach Braff will make a new movie where some character immortalizes Papercuts. Like The Shins, it's music that will charm anyone who doesn't know about all of the superior alternatives to it. What you've got here are 10 songs that are instant, springtimey, and safe -- save a potential sugar overdose. You could do worse, but you could also do better.

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