Paper Chase

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Young Bodies Heal Quickly You Know (2001), 6.5/10
Hide The Kitchen Knives (2003), 5/10
God Bless Your Black Heart (2004), 4.5/10
Now You Are One Of Us (2006), 7/10
Someday This Could All Be Yours (2009), 5/10

The Paper Chase is a quartet from Dallas (Texas) fronted by singer/guitarist John Congleton and featuring Sean Kirpatrick on keyboards and samplers. On their debut, Young Bodies Heal Quickly You Know (Beatville, 2001), they were as artsy, nervous and neurotic as the early groups of the new wave (Television, Pere Ubu, Dead Boys). The album feels like a disorienting whirlwind of elements that randomly draw from post-rock and hardcore. More than flows of sound, the tracks were bursts of sound. The song structures of This May Be the Last Song You Ever Hear and Can I Pour You Another Drink Lover are devastated by uncontrolled urges. The more rational Paperwork and Off With Their Heads and the eight-minute When And If The Big One Hits toy with a similarly eccentric format, except that it is, at last, subservient to the melody. The tension between structured and free-form counterpoint is epitomized by Goddamn These Hands, that sounds like Godspeed You Black Emperor improvising over a phone conversation.

The five-song EP Cntrl-Alt-Delete-U (Divot, 2002) further abstracted the concept, crafting the edgy Press Any Key To Continue and Who Can Deny How Delicious It Tastes at the border between Pop Group and Slint.

Perhaps influenced by the fad du jour (emocore), Hide The Kitchen Knives (Southern, 2003) managed to sound less focused while it emphasized the rocking and the vocal components of their sound. The three-song EP What Big Teeth You Have (Southern) contains Everyone Knows How This Song Will End and two covers.

God Bless Your Black Heart (Kill Rock Stars, 2004) was sunk by operatic and gothic arrangements that totally deviated from the original program.

Now You Are One Of Us (Trost, 2006) reinvented the project. John Congleton was now personally responsible for both the lyrical and the musical aspects of it. His strategy was the ultimate disorienting experience within the framework of the conventional rock song: employing the wrong vehicle, namely cliches of arrangements (whether psychedelic-rock or chamber-pop), to deliver a message that has nothing to do with the cliche (e.g., a horror story set to lively power-pop riffs, or acid distortions for a melancholy reminescence). From Chuck Berry to Slipknot, rock music used to tailor the music to the lyrics. This version of Paper Chase was emblematic of a switch towards deliberately decoupling the two and even juxtaposing them, so that one's yin contrasted with the other's yang. A side effect of these twisted structures was the emergence of a demonic (not just gothic) element. The album opens with the operatic Broadway-esque aria We Know Where You Sleep, a sort of David Bowie meets Tom Waits in the musichall. The declamating overtones pervade album's highlight You Will Never Take Me Alive, whose melodramatic tension is created by hammering cello chords, as well as the insanely majestic hymn At The Other End Of The Leash. Far from being serious about his neoclassical poses, Congleton mocks them with the syncopated litany of Wait Until I Get My Hands On You. The angry, sneering, dissonant, piano-driven, punk-rock of The Kids Will Grow Up To Be Assholes weds Captain Beefheart and the Art Bears. A grotesquely limping Pere Ubu-esque rhythm propels The Most Important Part Of Your Body that lugubrious piano lines and scorching guitar licks turn into a macabre dance. Paper Chase pour plenty of adrenaline in the anthemic gallop of You're One Of Them Aren't You?, in the thundering mini-opera And All The Candy You Can Eat, and in closer The House Is Alive And The House Is Hungry, shouting to the world their desire to shock.

Someday This Could All Be Yours (2009) was meant to be a two-volume concept album but only the first volume was released. The ambition of the "rock opera" stretched their melodic skills a bit too thin. Congleton failed as both a composer and a singer, too emphatic and melodramatic on both counts. Even promised singalongs like I'm Going to Heaven with or without You are smothered in big rhythms and anticlimactic sound effects. The vaudeville-esque The Common Cold is a delight, but little else survives the slaughter, and certainly not the seven-minute This is only a Test. The rousing This is a Rape succeeds only at the very end.

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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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