Review Summary: Solder me like a wire that breathes, your carbon copy fibre optic plea.
The Paper Chase is an experimental alternative rock/pop group hailing from Dallas, Texas, and headed by singer/guitarist/producer John Congleton (notable for his production work with Modest Mouse, The Thermals, and Explosions In The Sky). Their debut LP, Young Bodies Heal Quickly, You Know, was released in 2000 by Kill Rock Stars.
Young Bodies is a frightening album. Which makes sense, the singer for The Paper Chase produces Halloween records in his spare time, but is still somewhat shocking in the context of modern music. Most alternative rock bands put emotion in their singing, using powerful delivery to add feel and soul to their voice. Heavier music uses discordance, and screamed vocals to put power in their music. The Paper Chase, on the other hand, use extreme instrumental harmonic dissonance, quiet-loud songwriting, and strangled, shouted vocals to create the unique emotional feel found on Young Bodies.
This is best found in the dynamic moments of the album when sporadic, frantic guitar solos break out over howled choruses, or when the quiet drum loops are suddenly blown apart by walls of discordant piano chords. Dynamics like these are really what make Young Bodies what it is. At some moments of the album, a simple piano melody or drum loop may play through the whole song while vocals and guitar melodies weave in and out of the song, changing in intensity or volume each time to different effect. Other times, songs can churn along for a few minutes before climaxing, often without any build up to said climax; notably track "Paperwork Paperwork Paperwork." where various noises play behind a simple, energetic punk beat for almost a minute before guitar and bass suddenly explode into the song and grip it for its remaining three minutes, playing through a handful of riffs and melodies at breakneck pace before ending suddenly.
The songwriting on Young Bodies is well matched by the instrumentation, which ranges from acoustic guitar and piano to fuzzy walls of distorted bass and fuzzed-out lead guitars. The tone of the instrumentation is often dissonant, with notes not harmonizing or harmonizing in odd ways, but they are combined with simple pop sensibilities in such a way that the music doesn't sound 'experimental' as much as it just sounds new. The drums are also fantastic on the album, using heavy syncopation and occasionally distortion effects to produce a remarkably unique sound.
Despite their bizarre harmonic sensibilities and songwriting habits, The Paper Chase is still a pop band at heart. The estranged shouts and wails of singer John Congleton, although jarring at first listen, slowly reveal more and more emotion throughout Young Bodies. At the beginning, the album's narrator is presented as somewhat of a madman, ranting about mortality, patriotism, armageddon, and evil machinery, but around the middle of the album he becomes a loveable character, quietly lamenting the loss of his girlfriend as the (figurative") end of the world approaches. And at the very end of Young Bodies, the listener listens in to his soulful ballad to his lover over pounding drums and shouting madmen:
If the big one/ If the big one hits/ I'll just meet you there / I'll just meet you there
And at that point it becomes apparent that the true magic of the album is in the album as an experience; a careful madman's narrative of love, loss, nationalism, and eventual armageddon, driven by powerful avant-garde pop.