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The Paper Chase - Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1

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Artist: The Paper Chase

Album: Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Review date: May. 20, 2009

The Paper Chase play muscular, lumbering indie rock that practically sounds as if it were nailed together, crash by crash. Their fourth album, Someday This Could All Be Yours, takes natural disasters as its theme, but the music rarely gets away from the Texas band’s four members – rather than identifying with chaos, it sounds like they are weathering a hurricane from within a house, the windows all boarded up. Vocalist John Congleton’s voice stands in for a kind of loss of control the music only brushes against. It’s a good look, though: his voice holds up to a battery of comparisons, but to my ears Congleton hovers and dodges between Hutch Harris and Jamie Stewart. Over less structured music, Congleton’s voice would be an errant bleat, but stretched over the band’s tastefully graceless downbeats, it’s a trampoline that meaning playfully bounces against. The difference between the previously mentioned Thermals and Xiu Xiu singers lies between the former’s nasal, declaratory tone and the latter’s gulping, battered butoh tremolo. Congleton never goes batshit crazy like Stewart, and never loses a kind of insistence proper to Harris. The lyrics might be mystifying at points, and Congleton earns his company by training his voice to trace the ties that bind the personal to the political, albeit in a highly coded way. Stewart’s transgressive steez is hysterical enough to make Harris’ undeterred alarm sound like NPR hum, but the voice functions in both cases to push the abstraction of the lyrics to the max, a kaleidoscope of sound-sense that gestures towards real reasons for real feelings but also feels curiously unmoored.

The jumble of Someday This Could All Be Yours is abstract, though the sounds are still identifiably those of an indie rock band. The playing is unexpectedly hard, not filled with rage but an unusually consistent strength that makes the music occasionally seem skeletal. The melodies, on the other hand, are well thought-out, and traced with a hand heavy enough to corral even the occasional wrong note, roping into the purview of Congleton and crew’s intention. The experience of listening to the album is vague, but hovers on the brink of specificity. Parts of the music individually signify, or seem to have an aura of meaning around them, but the songs’ M.O. is to keep them in constant orbit around each other. The result can be strangely exhausting, as if the music’s miming a huge feeling it can’t spell out. Indie rock’s grand tradition is the temper tantrum, and it’s one that comes into life beautifully in the chorus of songs like "This Is A Rape (The Flood)."

The problem, though, is that any song could stand in for the one above; the album’s almost unnecessarily consistent, its structures have obviously been toiled over and tweaked to provide maximum absorption. Lyric shards try for mantra status but end up falling wide of the target, kernels that sound meaningful but crumble when spread thin or scrutinized. In some ways, the fact that it’s another top-shelf indie rock album belies its shortcomings. The music offers plenty of reasons to feel good about feeling bad; too bad that the lyrics, which suggest these feelings in the first place, evacuate themselves moments after they surface, making for a curiously glossy listening experience.

By Brandon Bussolini

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