Dusted Reviews

Papercuts - Can't Go Back

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Papercuts

Album: Can't Go Back

Label: Gnomonsong

Review date: Feb. 15, 2007

Jason Quever is a Northern California songwriter with ties to Casiotone’s Owen Ashworth, Vetiver’s Andy Cabic and Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste. He made two albums as Papercuts before this year's Can’t Go Back - a suggestive but rough collection of demos called Rejoicing Songs and a more polished and orchestrated full-length called Mockingbird. It was the latter that caught Cabic’s attention, causing the Vetiver frontman and Gnomonsong co-head to sign Quever to his fledgling label. Cabic also began bringing Quever along as he made his rounds - a radio appearance here, a compilation entry there, as freak folk godfathers are wont to do. (It wasn’t that long ago that Devendra Banhart was doing the same for Cabic, come to think of it.) It probably didn’t hurt that Quever had the same natural tendencies as Vetiver, favoring expansive, folk-flavored, Cali-style pop, full of the kind of space and breezy naturalism as Cabic's band, yet distinctly different. In fact, if Quever’s excellent and all-its-own-thing second album reminds you of anything, it's probably To Find You Gone, the album that established Cabic as at least Banhart’s equal.

If it’s not Quever’s turn yet, it soon will be, because this is easily the most exciting new pop album of a still young year. Can’t Go Back grabs you with the first flurry of guitar strums, all cool, voluminous tone and three-dimensional space. It's the first salvo in what emerges as a damn-near perfect album, each cut luminous and distinct from the others, yet arranged in a way that flows easily from start to finish. Like Cabic, Quever is the master of unhurried lyricism, songs that seem like they might go on forever, or at least for the length of a sunny afternoon.

The album starts with a gorgeous kiss-off song called “Dear Employee,” where Quever cannot seem to decide whether he wants to bully the young woman waltzing out of his life or mourn her passing. It’s couched in the language of dead-end twentysomething jobs – people are always fetching coffee and newspapers for people and bussing tabletops when they're not hurting each other. The music is ambiguous, furious forward motion in the chord-shifting guitar strums, dream and drift in the vocals. Here and throughout the album, the tone is soft yet clear and spacious. Quever’s voice is the main thing, cool-toned and gorgeous, a little like Roy Orbison, but it’s couched in arrangements that are neither too much nor too little. Small touches – the bass notes that percolate up out of the bottom, the glockenspiel plinks that brighten the high notes at the cut’s end – add interest without seeming fussy. And, like all really good songs, “Dear Employee” is so fully itself that it resists analysis. Impossible to say why it’s so good really, it just is.

“John Brown” which follows is almost as excellent, full of swaggering, whammy-laced surf guitar and Spaghetti-Western bravado. It’s a song about the famous abolitionist, apparently, and the righteous madness of a man who “can only fit just so much in his head.” There’s a dramatic change after the second verse, as the song shifts gear, picks up tempo and becomes darker and more aggressive. It’s like two different songs shoe-horned together, same key, same subject matter but a whole different mood, and yet it works reasonably well anyway.

With “All Summer Long,” Quever returns to the sweeping, bittersweet pop idiom of the opener. Again we have the straight up strumming, this time punctuated by a dramatic booming drum at the start of each phrase, again the soft, sad chorus. “Can you wait...Can you wait all summer long?” Quever croons with all the sweetness, all the melancholy of loved deferred, his voice cresting into big wall-of-sound crescendos that would make Phil Spector proud.

As you may have inferred, this is not one of those happily-ever-after albums. It’s main emotional territory is wistfulness, the outside-looking-in perspective – there’s actually a song called “Outside Looking In” – that’s at the heart of all romantic pop. In “Unavailable,” it’s a pretty girl with a rich boyfriend seen from afar, the lyrics gentle, caressing, sympathetic, but maybe enjoying her heartache a little too much. When the girl calls the BF, for instance, she incurs the observation, “Didn’t his assistant say I’m sorry but who are you?” And “Take the 227th Exit,” for all its rollicking, good-time feel, is more than a little mean-spirited, as the singer imagines an ex hearing about his wedding and regretting her mistake. There’s really only one straight-up love song, “Sandy” and, it's one of the album’s prettiest cuts, a stricken boy’s teenage symphony to sex straight out of some 1960s AM radio. But Quever doubles right back to guarded cynicism with the next cut, a buoyant, breezy anti-love anthem that observes how everything we want eventually turns into just “another thing to dust.”

Quever closes with a cut called “The World I Love,” and you might expect, from the title, that this would be one of those life-affirming paeons to daily existence. Well, no, actually, the world Jason Quever loves is killing him, but in such a sweet, sad way that you can’t but hope it keeps on with its abuse. This is the kind of wonderful, wistful pop that paradoxically makes you feel better in direct proportion to the melancholy of its lyrics. The pop summer, with its short-duration loves, aching harmonies and leafy disenchantments, starts now, right here in February, with Can't Go Back.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Papercuts

Fading Parade

Read More

View all articles by Jennifer Kelly

Find out more about Gnomonsong

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.