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Music Reviews

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Can't Go Back

Rating: 8/10 ?

March 5, 2007
I recently saw two up-and-coming indie bands, Papercuts and Grizzly Bear, on tour as they came through Tucson, playing to a good size Friday night crowd at venerable venue Plush. I also had the pleasure of chatting with members of both bands prior to hitting the stage, as they pedaled merch in a dimly lit corner of the bar. They talked about tour highlights (Great American Music Hall in San Francisco), we shared our opinions of the current indie scene, and even talked about the changing role of music criticism in the far-reaching realm of the Internet. It's this sort of interaction that confirms why the independent club circuit remains the best arena for live shows, providing up close and personal experiences. Both bands played a superb show of engaging songs from their respective recent releases to an enraptured audience.

At the show I landed a copy of Papercuts' sophomore effort, Can't Go Back. The San Francisco-based band is the endeavor of Jason Quever, who writes and records all the music, with a supporting crew of musicians in the studio and for touring. The setup is basic: guitar, piano, drums and bass, with well-placed organ on about half the tracks. From the opening bars there is a vaguely perceptible don't-call-it Frisco vibe, an acid-tinged sixties din that permeates the entire album. And it doesn't hurt that the subject of the gospel-flavored second song is abolitionist John Brown. The flower children would be proud. Nonetheless, rather than a gratuitous throwback to Quever's hometown, the retro sentiment comes across as contemporary and almost timeless. Certain bands have a particular ability to act as a conduit threw which the past flows freely, without sounding derivative. Papercuts fall directly into this commune, uh, community.

Musically, Can't Go Back is quite compelling, and draws the listener in for the duration of its forty minute run. The production is balanced, all instruments mixed perfectly with Quever's expressive voice. His range is somewhere between low and high, almost as Garfunkel and Simon blended into one. At times it borders on a quiver, in that Billy Corgan sort of way, and like Corgan's, Quever's voice is a prominent presence throughout the songs. Quever and his musicians are also terrific; much more than simple background, they resonate and ring. The piano lead on "Found Bird," with its rolling arpeggios, is especially beautiful, as is the rhythmic part on "The World I Love."

By far the two greatest strengths of Can't Go Back are the writing and the arrangement. The weak link is the lyrical consistency, mainly because the vocal topics sometimes appear shallow compared to the depth of the music. For every sweet spot, there is a twee spot. In album opener "Dear Employee," the lament "I don't need you no more/ I'm not alone" works well with the tense, yet fluid, accompaniment. In the aforementioned "John Brown" the match is even better, the ethereal music a perfect backdrop to the imagery "I know you can see faces in the walls/ An oh you can hear those voice in the halls." But then come songs like "Summer Long," with the vain expression "can you wait baby wait/ you'll have to wait all summer long" repeated numerous times, and "Unavailable," where we hear "Hey little girl/ where's your man/ He's always on the phone."

Regardless of whatever angle from which one analyzes at it, Can't Go Back is a solid sequence of strong songs, including the farcical interlude "Take the 227th Exit." It strikes a fine balance of past and present, and is original in its own enchanting way. I found myself hitting play again after every cycle; it is simply that enjoyable a listen. Together with an impressive live performance, Can't Go Back suggests great potential for Papercuts.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro



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