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Paul Brill - New Pagan Love Song

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Artist: Paul Brill

Album: New Pagan Love Song

Label: Scarlet Shame

Review date: Mar. 8, 2005

These days, you might burn a new record before you’ve looked at the packaging much (OK, I volunteer at a college radio station, but I know I’m hardly alone there), but you’ve gotta get a load of New Pagan Love Song in its native environment. It’s a clever, understated, arty pop album decked out in clever, understated, pop-arty snapshots. Its box works like a well-done Fotolog page from a witty bastard who communicates mainly under the table, and it suits the shiny piece of plastic inside it perfectly.

Paul Brill carries himself like a seasoned songwriting vet. He fleshes out his soulful bon-bons with lush, disciplined backdrops (both the production and instrumentation pack regular surprises; bass seldom goes this low outside hip hop), and few of his contemporaries mix ego, self-deprecation and sadness with his discipline. The low-key shuffle “Weekday Bender” mines druggie pathos deeper than the best of early Wilco. Its charm bleeds through the smoky waltz “Everything I Believe In” into the sneering, rickety “Comeback Kid,” which mocks battered megalomania over a beat that could’ve been inspired by nine coat-hangers in a dryer.

A few airy trifles pock the disc’s latter half. Mystique sometimes overrides emotional content. Sure, emotional deadness qualifies as an emotion in and of itself – David Foster Wallace says so, and Brill’s best material transcribes the craving for sentimentality with the best of them. And yet, there’s a difference between calling out for the “right” response and phoning it in, and NPLS starts to give it up in its final laps.

Brill’s non-descript voice can’t quite get this thing through the clouds. But anyone who’s not yet desensitized to the pleasures of pure brainy pop should find some momentary solace in New Pagan Love Song.

By Emerson Dameron

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