The self-titled debut album from Paper Beat Scissors, essentially the brainchild of Halifax singer-songwriter Tim Crabtree, features an assorted who’s who of the Canadian indie rock and folk scenes. Pietro Amato of Bell Orchestre appears on French horn, Sebastian Chow of Islands plays violin, Snailhouse’s Mike Feuerstack co-produces, and in the mixing chair is none other than Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara. Despite being a bit of a Canuck indie star-studded affair, Paper Beats Scissors is an astounding album of beautiful folk that might bear some comparison, at least sonically, to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago in that it is a lush, gentle affair. It starts out with barely a percussion instrument in sight on opening songs “Ends in Themselves” and “Season’s Rest” (you have to listen closely to hear the brushed drums of the latter track), but, as the album wears on, it grows more and more ferocious, culminating in the maelstrom of penultimate track “Watch Me Go”. Paper Beat Scissors is a deliberately angular record, and one that needs a few wear-throughs to really make an impact – and it can be argued, too, that it isn’t for every taste – but the haunting and harrowing quality of the material lingers.
What makes Paper Beat Scissors an intriguing and compelling listen lies in the vocal styling of Crabtree, who bends his words sometimes into an indistinguishable blur, bringing to mind the colourful babble of Sigur Rós. It’s a hypnotic effect, one that combines with the generally sparse minimalism of many of the songs here to create a glacial, but inviting underpinning. Essentially, Paper Beats Scissors is neo-folk music that obviously couldn’t have been made anywhere else than Canada’s East Coast, such is its foundation of familiarity: soft acoustic guitars are plucked in a sea shanty feel, with the occasional flash of modern bluegrass to liven up the musical landscape. While the album can be stark, vexing, and potentially off-putting for weaker souls, Paper Beat Scissors shows a mastery of the folk form and pushes the genre into new Spartan directions. This isn’t merely indie folk music: Paper Beat Scissors is a genuine work of effortless art.