[5 December 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Australia’s the Paper Kites is a folk-rock outfit, but not a folk-rock outfit in the ways you might expect. You might be tempted to think that anything branded “folk rock” would be categorized in the Mumford and Sons department these days, but not the Paper Kites. Their debut full-length album, States, which follows the release of a couple of EPs, sounds a little like old folkies such as Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, with an added pinch of Nick Drake, coupled with a slightly more contemporary lilt – think the Cranberries or Mazzy Star – tossed in with the orchestrated grandeur of indie rock brethren such as early Arcade Fire or Grizzly Bear. That’s a lot to take in, but somehow the Paper Kites pull it off. Coast around the Web, you’ll see nice comments from seemingly new fans who’ve seen the band in North America as an opening act and were blown away, so States may prove that being relegated to the opener for the Paper Kites might be soon behind them. This is a group that deserves a wider audience, if not buzzy word of mouth. Though perhaps the buzziest thing currently going for the band is that their video for “St. Clarity” was helmed by Natasha Pincus, who also did the clip for that song by Gotye. (And we all know there’s only one, really.) But what sets States apart is that it feels like a solid, cohesive album from start to finish, and even recalls very slightly the work of New Zealand’s the Phoenix Foundation, just without the languid pace that that band conjures up in some of their work.
But what’s so precious about the Paper Kites is the lovely male-female vocal interplay of Sam Bentley and Christina Lacy, the latter of who sounds like a dove at points on the recording. It’s priceless to hear. The group, while deftly taking their turn at finger plucked banjo ballads, also knows how to pack a wallop on mid-tempo rockers, such as “A Lesson from Mr. Gray” (which boasts a divine extended electric guitar workout) and “Cold Kind Hand”, without sacrificing the inner beauty of their more fragile material. By the time the string section descends at the end of final cut “I Done You So Wrong”, it’s like you’ve died and gone to somewhere celestial. But, wall to wall, States is stacked with gems, tiny diamonds, and this is almost the sort of thing you’d want to listen to on endless repeat. Almost. Perhaps the only tick – and a slight tick at that – that can be made against States is, at 13 songs totaling about an hour in length, the record feels a little bit long, the result, perhaps, of a band wanting to stretch out well beyond the EP format they’d been previously confined to. Still, this is a record that is a cut above the usual folk rock cloth, and then some, and I’m confident that we’ll be hearing a lot more about the Paper Kites in the many, many years to come.