Papercuts: Mockingbird

Pan American Recording

Jason Robert Quever is Papercuts. The San Francisco resident released a well-received album in 2000 under this name called Rejoicing Songs, which several critics rejoiced to. Characterized as “a marching band on Quaaludes”, Papercuts delves into territory that is part atmospheric, part dream pop rock, always melodic, and never boring. Backed by members of the Cave-Ins, including drummer Luke Top and backing vocalist and keyboardist Matt Popieluch, Quever begins this album with the title track, bringing to mind a Spaghetti Western anthem if done by Devandra Banhart. As the drums complement the higher lilt of Quever’s dreamy, lush, and provocative lyrics, the retro-style recalls the late psychedelic era. Think of a band like the Hidden Cameras if living on the Pacific Coast and some semblance of their sound comes to mind. Although plodding at points, “Mockingbird”‘s lush nature is its biggest asset, as Top’s drum fills keep it flowing. The repetitive conclusion also recalls Pink Floyd circa Atom Heart Mother.

Bands such as Black Heart Procession and Sparklehorse would be wise to seek this out, especially for the uplifting “Poor and Free” that sounds like the Polyphonic Spree being produced by a sparring combo of Steve Nieve and Kevin Shields. It’s quite fragile in the vein of Travis lead singer Fran Healy, but the keyboards and rhythm section seem to dominate most of the Tommy James and the Shondels-like track. Papercuts up the ante, though, with a pleasing, mid-tempo, Pulp-ish run-through on “A Fairy Tale”. Driven by piano, the syrupy approach is comparable to groups like the Delays or even Sigur Ros. “I would crawl into the wall / There it was I came undone”, Quever sings, like he’s channeling Jeff Tweedy and Jon Thor Birgisson. “My Ivory Towers” doesn’t quite work as well, though. It’s as if they’re attempting to enhance a bleak Coldplay tune. A theme of alienation is quite apparent on this track as Quever talks about pulling down the shades and reading his magazines. The only tune where they overtly try to be some type of alt. pop-rock band is the run-of-the-mill “Pan American Blues Pt. 2”. “You don’t have a choice / It’s encoded in your voice / And everything you say just makes it ten times worse”, Quever sings, as the song seeps into your system.

Like most decent albums, this song is quickly replaced with one more compelling and alluring. Such is the case with “Tulips”, which has a hazy pop hue hovering over it, recalling a neo-pop version of the Doors’ “Alabama Song (Whisky Bar)”. The tempo is consistent while Natalia Mazzuca lends some very light but important viola to the proceedings. This is a tune the late Elliott Smith would’ve totally fallen in love with — heartbreaking, but heartbreakingly pretty at the same time. “December Morning” attempts valiantly to keep the bar high, but it pales when it seems to go to the Far East for its instrumentation. It never recaptures this initial promise and it’s one of the few disappointments. Fortunately, “Oh Nobody’s Son” has an old-time chamber pop flavor à la Belle and Sebastian or the Montreal band Stars. The waltz-time makes the harmonies soar courtesy of Matt Popieluch. While repeating itself often musically, it just goes with the flow, and flow it does, even if some cheesy church-like keyboard is used. The coda is interesting, though, as it breaks out somewhat into viola and keyboards.

The Velvet Underground is a seminal influence for hundreds of bands, and Papercuts are no different on the minimal, creepy “Judy”. Dirge-like to the point of inducing a coma, Quever thrives on this track, letting his voice carry the song instead of the fine music behind him. A ballad rounds out the record, but overall it’s an album that will make Papercuts stick around for hopefully several equally memorable more.