Review Summary: Those babies in the woods, they grow up so fast
Papercranes have never been interested in abiding by the rules. Everything about them is odd
– note their sophomore effort titled Let’s Make Babies In The Woods
– and ever since their inception in 2003, they have done very little to intentionally gain exposure. The band’s aversion of the spotlight can in many ways be attributed to front woman Rain Phoenix, whose music has always seemed to prefer lurking within the dark, murky depths of her mind. Anyone who listened to Let’s Make Babies In The Woods
actually won’t recall the title to be its strangest quality; it had this depressive, unexpectedly grating sound that merged exceptionally well with Phoenix’s pained cries and melancholy lyricism. The record arrived in stark contrast to the incursion of happy-go-lucky female poppers plaguing the scene, and not even in a subtle way, it was a huge
breath of fresh air. In 2012, Papercranes have returned to build upon a concept that, until now, most of us probably didn’t even realize exists.
isn’t just a lazily named third full-length. It is a summary of what the album contains – three related EPs entitled First Born
, Middle Child
, and Baby
. But here’s the kicker: each EP represents a child conceived in the woods from Papercranes’ Let’s Make Babies In The Woods
. Thus, we enter Three
already knowing it is weird, and with the additional expectation that it will be just as raw and cacophonous as its strangely titled predecessor. But, as per the norm when it comes to Papercranes, there is no norm. Three
is actually a bold step into melodic territory, effortlessly shrugging off the gray cloud that hovered over the band’s previous efforts. And even though it leaves behind a lot of the abrasiveness that we are used to hearing, it still manages to retain the flat out quirkiness that drew us all to Papercranes in the first place.
From a musical perspective, Three
is a starkly divided piece. First Born
is quiet and subdued, consisting primarily of acoustic strumming, elegant piano, and gorgeous vocal melodies that lend the experience a feeling of lucidity. ‘Rose Stem’ immediately comes to mind, gliding slowly and smoothly on a sheet of ice-tinged classical piano notes while carefully building to Rain Phoenix’s spoken verse “I know, I know you’ve got my heart now / And I’m wide eyed, but I won’t be soon forgetting / That I’ve got yours on a rose stem.” ‘Tin Cup’ is another standout, with flourishing acoustic guitars and Phoenix’s hoarse chants that are beautifully accented by a string section. The middle two tracks, ‘Bird’s Eye Knew’ and ‘ Arvo’s Heart’, also contribute to the tranquil atmosphere, effectively lulling listeners into a place of contentment and safe haven. For those who approach this EP with the expectation that it will be rough-around-the-edges (like ‘Headphones’ or ‘Sea Red’), some time will be needed in order to become acclimated. But despite its slower, more melodic approach, First Born
delivers as good of a four song opening sequence as one could ask for.
, however, is easily Three
’s biggest triumph. Everything about it is full of life. It amps up the electric guitars immediately, injecting some much needed energy into the album’s flow. ‘Setting’ features what would have easily been the catchiest chorus on the album had it not been outdone a mere couple of tracks later by ‘Save Us.’ The latter begins with fast-paced acoustic strumming before it is joined by bouncy, upbeat vocals and an intricate, screeching guitar solo. When the chorus erupts in all of its splendor, one can’t help but immediately chime in with the subtly sarcastic line “God save all of us! God save all of us!” It could be most readily compared to the mocking nature of Frank Turner’s ‘Glory Hallelujah’, and it is every bit as infectious. There isn’t a Middle Child
track that isn’t worthy of mention – ‘Shared’ is an absolute gem, and might be the best song from an instrumental and structural standpoint. The jaunty piano melody is the song’s calling card, making it easily recognizable not only amongst other Papercranes tunes, but amongst all musicians who carry a remotely similar approach in their songwriting. As the percussion increases in intensity towards the end of the song, there is a genuine feeling of satisfaction because you can actually sort of rock out to it even though its driving force is deeply rooted within basic indie-pop principles. ‘Matter’ draws from Rain Phoenix’s Sonic Youth influences, composing a moody rock song that boasts massive synthesizers, soaring riffs, and a vocal performance that would make PJ Harvey shake in her boots. Everything about Middle Child
is worth investing your time in, so if there’s only one EP on this album – nay, within this entire year – that you listen to, make it this one.
After such an over-the-top quality offering, it would be easy to overlook the final chapter of Three
marks a return to the slow-tempo approach of the first EP, but it is also very different – and hardly an afterthought. Whereas First Born
could best be described as “delicate”, Baby
is a psychedelic journey; a stream of consciousness not all that dissimilar from Let’s Make Babies In The Woods
. The main discrepancy, really, is just in the pace of the songs. ‘Ending’ has the feel of a folk ballad, but is noticeably darker. Regal sounding horns act as an ongoing siren in the background, while a stomping beat wills the song forward...it sort of feels like a walk in the woods gone terribly wrong, where you happen upon a tribe of witches performing a religious ceremony that scares the living shit out of you, so you just turn around and walk the other way...yeah, like that
. ‘Greed’ is what would happen if you walked right up to the circle of witches and asked if you could join in. It creepily echoes and hums, sounding reminiscent of either a ghost or an acid trip that took you back in time to the 1950’s. Musically, it isn’t very technical or innovative, but Rain Phoenix’s impeccable vocal delivery sells the song - even in all of its simplicity. ‘View’ and ‘Pumpkin’ are a little more under the radar, but they each maintain a feverish, tumbling-down-the-rabbit-hole atmosphere that allows both Baby
to go out on a mysterious note – one that will leave you wondering what the hell you just listened to while simultaneously craving more of the same.
is an elaborate and ridiculous concept album, but regardless of how much sense it makes when you try to tie it all together, there is no denying that the music here is of the utmost quality. Papercranes have clearly evolved, creating something unlike Let’s Make Babies In The Woods
but just as good. It croons and it rocks, it sulks and it soars; it’s a daunting listen not for a lack of harmonious qualities, but for the sheer absurdity of its premise. Four slow, elegant ballads followed by four high flying alt-rock songs ending with four sinister indie-folk tunes is one hell of a way to write an album, and Papercranes do a magnificent job. This trio of EPs/full-length is a dark horse, and it has the potential to the best album you haven’t heard this year.