The contemporary notion of the singer-songwriter seems to be one more focused on conveying a sense of emotion rather than of lyrical relatability. Gone are the days of storytellers focused on moving people with their words, replaced by musicians acting under the singer-songwriter guise who place greater emphasis on melody and their ability to convey certain emotions through the sounds, rather than the words, coming out of their mouths.
It’s as though we’ve reached the end of lyrical expression in terms of conveying deep-seeded sentiments and have to, instead, rely on a more visceral, aural palette of sonic shapes and sounds in order to properly convey 21st century-specific emotions that seem beyond the grasp of language. We’re showing instead of telling, singing instead of speaking.
Seeking to strike a balance somewhere between the two, Papercuts’ Jason Quever relies heavily on melancholic melodies augmented by occasionally decipherable lyrics dealing in depression and its debilitating effects on one’s ability to not only function within a broader social context, but also to convey emotions for which words themselves no longer seem to do proper justice. Images of individuals experiencing the world through windows, encountering innumerable doors and feeling lost in the proverbial forest proliferate Papercuts’ fifth album, Life Among The Savages.
Taken literally, the title implies an attempted existence in a society run amok with literal and figurative savages, all with self-preservation on their mind. Given the self-centered mindset we seem to have entered in the digital age, this is not far off and, for those of a more sensitive, introspective persuasion, coping with the modern world can often be a bit much. In “New Body”, Quever sings of external physical alterations designed to convey a sense of newness, of pleasant aesthetic change that is ultimately betrayed by inner demons that can never truly be covered up completely, no matter how many coats of bright, shiny new paint are applied.
Throughout, Quever’s voice moves barely beyond a gauze-enshrouded detached whisper, rising and falling with each melody, inhabiting a space comfortable to those familiar with the debilitating weight of depression or profound sadness, struggling to break from its confines yet content to continue along unabated. Lyrics and melodies coalesce into resigned sighs, imbuing each with an emotional heft that transcends the need for discernable lyrical content and instead conveys each intended emotional cue with just the right amount of subtly.
With “Easter Morning”, he creates an emotional epic reliant not on bombast but subtle tonal shifts that betray the initial impressions of the song’s opening lines depicting young children on the titular morning, ending with the crushing emotional blow of “nobody cares you’re putting on airs” before embarking on a resigned refrain of “la la las” that devolves into a repeated piano progression which in turn is then consumed by clattering drums. Putting on a face to help hide the feelings inside, convincing others that everything is fine when, quite clearly, everything is decidedly not. This is attempted self-preservation through presentation.
While not always explicitly conveying such sentiments in his lyrical content, Quever relies on a sonic palette of minor keys, plaintive pianos, fragile guitars, and heart-breaking vocal melodies to paint a picture of modern isolation and the desire to transcend the self and become something more than we’ve all ultimately resigned to become. With the closing one-two punch of “Afterlife Blues” and “Tourist”, these notions of isolation, inner turmoil and societal detachment come to a head with Quever singing of being “lost in the wilderness/praying for bliss/waiting on the afterlife” and, with “Tourist”, asking outright, “why won’t you help me/I can’t find my way home.”
All told, with Life Among The Savages Jason Quever’s Papercuts has crafted a near-perfect collection of contemporary baroque pop ruminations on the modern condition, one of isolation, sadness and an affectation that requires us to present an outward façade not generally indicative of the emotional turmoil raging within.
// Notes from the Road
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