The Paperhead – Chew (2017)

“If you talk at my eardrum, then I’ll love you to death”

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They’re from Nashville and I’ve got three of their records—that’s all I know about them. Neo-psych maybe? Though the cover bears a more snotty 70s power pop attitude, that’s just one blind alley of their newest album’s stylistic pastiche. It’s a lot to unpack, and I know I haven’t spent enough time with it.

If they were channeling The Kinks (a la The Leopards?) on their previous album Africa Avenue (2014) with “The True Poet” they’ve finally reached the Americana of Muswell Hillbillies and evidently—from the guest sax solo—discovered Roxy Music. I’m pretty sure the smattering of applause, after an opening track even, has been done before, and they’re back in the music hall for the banjo-led “Pig” which features one of my least favorite things, shouted banter between band members. They’re full on struttin’ by “Emotion (Pheromones),” though the incorporation of superfluous sounds (bells of some kind here) begins to feel strained. I’m all for texture and coloring, but after a new gimmicky use song-after-song it’s hard to take a lovely steel guitar for what it is, and while “Over And Over” is pleasing enough, the hooks aren’t quite there. I can’t help but think of the efficiency of Dead Moon, a very different band, who are consistently commanding with a less-is-plenty approach.

The fuzzy “Love You To Death” might be the most sonically satisfying to these ears and I suspect a smaller paintbox would suit these guys better (and with the mouth harp on “Fairy Tales” I’m almost certain of it). They sound more like themselves on “Dama de Lavanda” and here the cornet and flute contribute to the jazzy exotica effectively—it’s the kind of singular track that begs liberation from such a cluttered context and inspires  undertaking a mixtape for someone (and maybe I will). “Duly Noted” is the kind of far-flung freakout of their self-titled album, and a schizophrenic adjustment to “Porter’s Fiddle,” which is a bit like happening upon a Bakersfield AM station in the 70s until you realize there’s no reason to accept such substitute twang. I’d always suspected their moniker came from a recurring reference in the songs of July (and probably how the band caught my eye before my ear) but “War’s At You” is the first time I’ve heard their imitation of that late-60s British group—and its a pretty fun and convincing one at that.

Paperhead (2011) was a spacey but kinda aimless emulation of their psychedelic heroes, and Africa Avenue the perfect balance of songcraft and just enough experimentation. With Chew (and “Chew,” an instrumental theme song of sorts) it all gets to be too much—I’ll say it—to chew. Brimming with left-field instrumentation, forced whimsy, and more influences I’m even able to peg, this fatiguing listen makes one wish they had taken their own advice: “Let’s just sum it up into three chords.” (Duly noted.) Which is not to say I won’t enjoy playing it from time to time, but I’m more entranced with the sustained mood of Africa Avenue than impressed by the shape-shifting of Chew.

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