Sunday, January 6, 2008

CD Review: Paper Airplane’s “Middlemarch”

By Dave Schaefer

Paper Airplane are a Cinci/Columbus quartet that deliver a sound that is a good portion of 60’s nostalgia, a bit of 80’s pop and 90’s alt folk, and maybe even a touch of Electric Light Orchestra. Mixed together, it’s a sound that is surprisingly modern and decidedly appealing. The Beatles influence is evident, but the songs and sound aren’t copycat nostalgia -- instead, Paper Airplane takes it and uses it to their own purposes.

On their All Hail Records release Middlemarch, the music is beautifully layered, allowing the listener to discover new sounds with each visit. The smooth voice of lead singer Ryan Horns adds another layer to the music, blending effortlessly into the notes beneath it. Paper Airplane succeed in taking music and creating audial poetry. That being said, it’s also damn fun.

The lyrics echo the poetic nature of the music, finishing the art without making it look paint-by-number. They wax philosophic, but with Horn’s voice, the songs still sound light and somehow happy, regardless of the depth or darkness of the content.

Among the many standout tracks are the the opener “Keeping Things Whole,” because it sets the stage so well for the whole of the CD, and “Four Trucks Sitting in the Snow,” due to its exceptional lyrics and its fun, bouncy notes (well, as bouncy as Paper Airplane gets anyway). “Fire Escape” is another that sets itself apart as it allows the listener to unravel the story the lyrics tell, discovering meaning as it pertains more perhaps to themselves than the songwriter himself. The storytelling of “Mighty Resilient,” with Elliot as its main character, is brilliant -- sad, yet somehow uplifting at the same time.

“Rooftop” -- a mercifully short song -- is one that doesn’t work. The musical backdrop is surprisingly dull, especially given the quality of the other tracks, and the falsetto vocals are tough to get through without hitting your iPod’s ">>|" button. The lyrics aren’t interesting enough to work past the poor musical content and the song creates a sudden stop in the flow of the album.

The CD’s title Middlemarch is shared with George Eliot’s 1871 book of the same name, a story that is considered one of history’s greatest novels. If Eliot’s closing passage were translated to the music of Paper Airplane, it would fit: “For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Personally, I hope this CD stays neither hidden nor unvisited.

1 comment:

Whitni and Raivynn said...

i played 'four trucks sitting in the snow" on my radio show today!!