In one of his rare moments of backhanded optimism, Leonard Cohen sang, “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” It’s a theme Detroit quartet the Paper Sound run with on Trajectories, in that for all the nostalgia-tinged darkness that pervades the record, it comes with a corona of light surrounding it. The 10 tracks then don’t lose themselves in some oppressive gloominess; rather, there is an immediacy and fought-for idealism in the midst of some existential toiling.
The album goes for a large, sweeping sound, conveyed by a big production and a focus on powerful guitars that throw back to an early ‘90s aesthetic. First track, “Empty Chest”, establishes the concept of repentance and redemption with a vulnerability that builds to a crashing crescendo. As it tips the peak, it fades into “Broken Smile,” an incendiary tune with a chugging refrain, the lyrics of which best encapsulate the album’s searching motif in “With hope that limps and a broken smile / Can good still come from this life?”
As first displayed in the transition from these first two numbers, a sense of cohesion is yielded in the songs frequently segueing into one another, to the point that what initially sounds like a chord change or bridge break is a seamless slide to a separate track. Thus, while the album features various musical touchstones, there is a consistency in the blend. Crunchy cuts like “Find Your Voice” are at home with the energized “Worn”, but the most memorable songs are the slower, more wounded ones. “Living in Country” broods with a buzzing rhythm, a ponderous guitar slinking its way up from below, while “Thick and Slow” is striking in its lonely expression, a nighttime feel carried by watery guitar lines and singer Phil Kinney’s plaintive vocals.
Closer “The View From Here” wraps Trajectories with churchy organ and a gospel-meets-country inflection, the melancholic vibe suitable for a sleepless night spent in a dive motel. “Let’s pour one out without a shout / And whisper a prayer for hope”, Kinney sings at the end, backed by a rusty guitar solo. It’s a fitting way to close the piece, the sentiment being that no shining breakthrough has occurred, but the incentive is still there to keep pressing forth toward the brightness on the horizon.