Papercuts Fading Parade

[Sub Pop; 2011]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: indie, dream-pop, 60s pop
Others: Beach House, Cass McCombs, Skygreen Leopards

Every now and again, you encounter a timeworn sound that is actually new, but seems as if it’s been travelling a long time to get here. In the ideal world, where these sounds have matured to the perfect mellow vintage, you’ll hear them secondhand and yellowed, wafted down from a neighbor’s flat on a strong blast of weed. You might even impulsively ask your neighbor — who you never normally talk to — what they’re listening to that evening. Your washing might turn sepia and crisp in the sun, as you join your neighbor for a lost afternoon — but what the hell. It’s a sepia world in which all of this takes place anyway.

Jason Quever of Papercuts has evidently been striving for this atmosphere of summery elusiveness for some time now. His version of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer, recorded for charity, sounds like the morning-after memory of an inept, rapturous karaoke tribute. In the presence of such standard 80s pop, it’s nice that Quever picked up the baton and swung it around for fun, without shrinking yet another power ballad to the size of a kid’s T-shirt by excessive keyboard meddling.

Quever has been working on Papercuts since 2004. He has stuck with a slow, 60s sound since then. He is an enthusiastic collaborator with other like-minded talents, such as Beach House, Cass McCombs, and Skygreen Leopards. What many of these collaborators have in common with Quever is that they operate out of the San Francisco Bay Area, which makes that old “dead-head sticker on a Cadillac” theirs by inheritance, not by some kind of haphazard thrift store raiding.

Papercuts’ name was chosen because it suggested doing damage subtly, a reaction to music that needed aggression to get its point across, and Quever is fast becoming one of those stealthy producers whose stamp is recognizable by its faint, bleeding ink on tracks you assumed were conceived totally independently of each other. Like The Zombies, on Odyssey and Oracle, he uses a Mellotron and a range of Moogs and keyboards that should mire him in debt to the 60s, but he somehow manages to keep the sticky threads of these influences under control on Fading Parade. Even though this album is possibly his most full-blown and romantic, with ambitions seemingly trained on such old-fashioned goals as catchiness and melodiousness, the only time it starts to sound like The Zombies is on “Winter Daze.” Here, a beautiful theme wavers like a grounded kite, harmonies attached, and lyrics as melancholy as a high school poem. Quever is not afraid to sing about “flowers blooming,” but unlike some of his peers, his lyrics appear to be actual vignettes from a posited reality of painful relationships, not just vintage postcards strewn around for effect.

Good thing he’s an ingenious producer-man, then, as he appears to have found a way to let the vocals ride just above the surf in the mix so that they actually matter, while still sounding wistful and far away. On Can’t Go Back, the listener was aware of a life threading through the tunes, as, for example, on “Dear Employee,” where an abuse of power at work was made into scathing miniature, or on “Outside Looking In,” where Quever tossed off the lyric “I don’t understand that poetry rag/ An existential dilemma, what is that?” Words seem a little less important, however, on Fading Parade, a record that really feels like an ‘arrival’ in terms of perfecting a particular sound. It’s a strange anomaly that while recording techniques have made it possible for sound enthusiasts to record the prettiest pop songs you’ll ever hear, they’re not really writing pop songs so much as burying themselves in the history of this ambience in a shoegazing, almost mystical way.

It’s a Brian Wilson mentality, without the torture of being plagued by record industry goons demanding a choice at all times between commercial and muso concerns. Even if it’s a comfy place to be — especially considering that Quever’s recording studio is in his own home — it doesn’t seem to have engendered complacency on Fading Parade. Quever just seems happy being the mousy author of albums that need time and space to grow, like books.

I might be wrong, but many of the lyrics on Fading Parade appear to be addressed to a “Juliet,” and a kind of star-crossed slacker romance is indicated. A past relationship might have been a waste of time, but it doesn’t really matter, as you’re left with quality memories in exchange for the loss. If bookishness is often embedded in indie pop as a nod to the subtlety that it is trying to achieve in contrast to mainstream music, then Quever has done a good job of encoding these signals in the name of his band: “Papercuts,” and the name of their latest album: Fading Parade. In cynical marketing terms, an ‘indispensible’ sticker has been slapped on this effort through these moves, so that no wallflower’s music library would be complete without a shy Fading Parade. But even if these signals are just the come-on call of the coy indie pop artist (see our recent Pains of Being Pure at Heart review), it’s absolutely fine, because a lost afternoon with this album is — even in misty hindsight — time well spent.

Links: Papercuts - Sub Pop

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