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The Paper Chase - God Bless Your Black Heart

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Artist: The Paper Chase

Album: God Bless Your Black Heart

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Review date: Aug. 1, 2004

Texas’ The Paper Chase have been one of noise rock’s best acts for several years now, but their first two albums were released on the tiny indie Beatville and immediately got lost in the shuffle. Their excellent new God Bless Your Black Heart, released on the larger Kill Rock Stars, is going to be a lot harder to ignore.

At its core, The Paper Chase is an aggressive, herky-jerky rock band. Bassist Bobby Weaver and drummer Aryn Dalton are a punishing rhythm section – think of the Jesus Lizard or Shellac. Singer John Congleton’s slippery, stinging guitar style manages to sound anarchic while still landing in all the right places. And Sean Kirkpatrick’s piano and synths often feel more like parts of Dalton’s drum set than instruments unto themselves.

One might think that God Bless Your Black Heart's tons of samples, studio trickery and string and horn parts would distract the listener from the fact that the Paper Chase are loud as hell, but the album still feels raw and angry, which sets it apart from other albums of its kind. Unwound’s Leaves Turn Inside You and …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead’s Source Tags And Codes are the obvious recent touchstones for angular indie rock with maximal arrangements. Both those albums received lots of glowing reviews, but to my ears they only illustrated how far noise rock had to go before its artists found ways to use orchestral strings and other trappings in a consistently compelling and non-obvious manner. Trail Of Dead has never been a particularly good band, and stilted and awkward songs with strings are still stilted and awkward. And as the amount of ambition in Unwound’s music increased, its urgency decreased.

In contrast, The Paper Chase use non-rock instruments and samples in a purposeful manner that makes their music seem louder and nastier. There are never any silences between songs; most tracks have interludes featuring noise or samples of speech. It’s an old prog trick, sure, but rarely is it exploited this well. For example, “Abby, You’re Going To Burn For What You’ve Done To Me” begins with a southern female preacher bellowing, “We all too must die one day. But the thing about it is, will you be ready?” before she’s interrupted by a full-band accent that’s timed so well it may make you jump the first time you hear it.

The actual songs frequently feature strings, but they’re often used as percussive effects (like a non-cheesy, non-synth version of the “orchestra hit” feature on an old Casio) or as important melodic instruments; never are they used to make the songs sound soupy or sentimental. And the Paper Chase use samples and noise throughout that fit in so well they enrich textures and give the music depth.

The Paper Chase does share one major similarity with Unwound, though: both acts differ from many noise rock bands, such as the aforementioned Jesus Lizard and Shellac, in that their music never seems like an exercise in heaviness, but rather a vehicle for the message of a genuinely restless person. God Bless Your Black Heart features very little irony – which, along with Congleton’s wailing vocals, may cause some listeners to view the Paper Chase as an emo band.

And they might be an emo band if they didn’t have a number of features rarely exhibited by most recent groups often described with that term. The Paper Chase's lyrics are never precious and rarely self-pitying; Congleton’s guitar playing is odd and seasick-sounding; the rhythm section seems less concerned with “emoting” than with creating massive noises you can feel in your chest cavity. And, most importantly, every aspect of this album is meticulously crafted, from its song structures to its complex textures to its sequencing. God Bless Your Black Heart is one of the best noise rock records in recent memory – and not in the sense that it’s bafflingly original, but in that the Paper Chase are amazingly good at what they do.

By Charlie Wilmoth

Other Reviews of The Paper Chase

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Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1

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