Review Summary: Not as 'experimental' as it'd like to be, but still a delightfully creepy indie adventure.
Even though I do have a few petty grievances about it, the world still needs more albums like The Paper Chase's Now You Are One of Us.
It's an honest, admirable attempt at something original, a fully fleshed out sonic adventure containing more than a few sounds that are sure to perk up your ears. Its weaknesses have nothing to do with its overall aesthetic. In fact, it's one of those albums that impresses you more with its preciseness of tone than with its actual songwriting.
The tone of Now You Are One of Us
is probably the coolest thing about it. It's a creepy, creaky indie pop album with vaguely experimental tendencies. Catchy little riffs come out of scratches of violin, scratches that aren't actual notes, when they're condensed and repeated within short allotments of time. A clunky, horror-film piano is always lurking away in the background. And the album also displays a surprisingly ingenious use of sampling. A few samples appear on the album more than once, emphasizing the atmosphere and themes that they convey. The end of "We Will Make You One of Us" samples what sounds like a female teacher bluntly stating "You are sleeping, you do not want to believe."
Now You Are One of Us
really does sport a masterful production job. It almost makes sense that this is sort of where the album's first weakness appears from. Even though this is an indie pop album with vaguely experimental tendencies, it presents itself as an experimental album with vaguely indie pop tendencies. And it simply is not that. The backbone of these songs is undeniably the traditional guitar-bass-drums format. And the choruses are always straining for that perfect transcendent catchiness, which just makes it more obvious that, save for a few songs, they never really get there. Vocalist John Congleton's lyrics have enough eerie and articulately violent imagery to keep you entertained, but most of the melodies don't make too much of a departure from what the rest of the music is doing, thus affecting their memorability. Even the album's standout sing-along, "You Will Never Take Me Alive," feels a little bit heard-before.
This is a pretty beefy album though, especially for its genre (or lack thereof). It has 15 songs, but one of them is an intro, and at least four of them could be considered "interludes." And most of the interludes come at the back half of the album, screwing up the album's pace quite a bit. The album could've been condensed, much like many of the sounds it contains, into something quicker and more digestible, without sacrificing any of its creepy, confrontational atmosphere. A shorter version of this album might even reinforce its message, for a lot of these songs could be described as frantic, claustrophobic bursts of feeling, but that tone kind of gets lost in a wave of interludes.
Make no mistake, the textures on this album are
unique. And these songs are
saying something. It's just that it feels like the band couldn't decide what to emphasize more, the 'experimental' noises or the totally traditional verse-chorus songwriting. The perfect Paper Chase album will be the one containing equal amounts of both.