ALBUM: Life Among the Savages
With an ever-revolving cast of characters and string of labels, Papercuts remains the musical vehicle of Jason Quever, the only permanent member of the band. Now on his sixth record, he’s quietly built up a slow and steady following for the past fourteen years, when he released his first album. Being at the center of his project gives him a lot of control over his music, and he uses it to his advantage. Not a single album has ever been released on the same label, even Sub Pop, and he frequently collaborates with other like-minded musicians like Alex Scally of Beach House (on 2009’s You Can Have What You Want) and more recently Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500 on Wareham’s recent album Emancipated Hearts. The fact that he often records in his home studio gives his process a certain intimate charm that really reflects on the music he creates. On Life Among the Savages, released on a brand new Los Angeles-based label Easy Sounds (which couldn’t be a more perfect title), Quever crafts sleepy dream pop (sleepy in a good way) that shoots for the clouds but stays grounded with a strong piano backbone. This batch of songs shows his modest knack for creating woozy compositions using basic instruments like piano, acoustic guitar, and organ and transforming them into a limitless sprawl of sound that hits a deep emotional vein.
The thing about Quever’s arrangements is that they seem like they shouldn’t work, yet they magically do. The instrumentations, especially in “Still Knocking At the Door,” “Life Among the Savages,” and “Tourist,” seem slovenly played and effortlessly slapped together, but mesh together in a way that makes us wonder how he made them sound perfectly breezy. It’s uncanny. Perhaps the secret is the reverb and other lo-fi production he uses as his glue. While they contribute to the dark and murky vibes that the record is bathed in, they also create an undeniable warmth that radiates through his songs. Methodical yet spontaneous, acoustic guitar strums, hard-hitting piano chords, and buzzing organs are encapsulated in this fuzzy sheen of production and play off each other in an almost whimsical way. And the percussion is anything but standard. Interestingly enough, behind his piano touches, the drums are one of the most fascinating things on the album. At times, they sound like an echo chamber to the max, like in “New Body.” Sometimes they’re super tight and focused like in “Staring At the Bright Lights.” And it almost sounds like a cymbal in reverse makes multiple appearances in “Easter Morning.” Their product is a testament to the wonderful things reverb-laced production can do to sound. It’s an endless and expansive sonic universe that envelops the listener in a fuzzy hug, one that they probably would want to hug back. This approach calls to mind Grizzly Bear’s echoey masterpieces that leave listeners entranced and captivated with every note and sound. This record sounds like an intimate live session in a basement somewhere. The quality of the instruments and how they come together is so organic; it’s like you’re right there.
Quever’s lyrics are earnest and heartfelt, but the only downside is that they’re very hard to understand because of the reverb also used to make them sound so great. It’s a sad Catch-22. His voice is smooth and often frail-bodied, but he holds his own well in the arena of his compositions. His whispers and half croons, from what would be understood, capture little vignettes of his life, his dreams and fears, rather than a complete story with strong narrative ties. And these little stories are often depressing or dark, enumerating his fears of being alone in his head with his demons, wanting to escape. Though some serious concentration is required to really parse out the individual lyrics, the way he sings them tell the stories of his emotions just as well. At a recent hometown show, he remarked that he was going to “play a happy song now” in light of the string of darker songs he just played. This self-aware attitude really brings him down to earth, in the best way. He knows the emotions that he’s bringing to people all too well, and that’s a sign of a great artist.
“It’s simple, simple/staring into the bright lights”