Earlier this week Airhouse records released Paper Airplanes’ “Scandal, Scandal, Scandal Down in the Wheat Field.” The release successfully bottles heady, thematic, album oriented rock music that is driving and passionate, and even more importantly, exciting and at times joyful and exuberant. A full album, that takes advantage of every minute that it has to offer. Like many song-cycle albums, it’s dense. There is a lot of material, but that is not a negative aspect in the least. I am of the opinion that the job of an album, and the job of an artist, a true musician, is to be able to create music that needs to be heard. The trick with an album constructed in this way is that the artist needs to create an entire album that needs to be heard as an album. Sure there are some songs that the listener will grab onto more than others, but in order to fully grasp the reality of the disc one must settle in and listen from front to back.
Paper Airplanes have managed to create such an album. A rare feat.
Like any good song cycle album, the listener is taken on a journey. The sequencing of the tracks is just as important as it would be with any other album, but this has the extra added challenge of needing to tie each element into the larger shape of the narrative arc. “Scandal…” deftly accomplishes the feat of creating a cohesive album of songs that are bound to each other to create a truly engaging solitary work.
Singer Marcus Stoesz’s voice stretches out from octave to octave, exploring the various shadings of tone in multiple ways for dramatic affect. One minute soft, relaxed and low, while brittle, reaching and tenuous the next. “Assembly” is a good instance of this type of song where the voice is reaching, soaring into the sky in a chorus that joyfully continues almost indefinitely in its soulful refrain.
The guitar tone, on that track, and throughout the album, is decidedly bright and clean. Everything is clean. Stoesz’s voice is very unique, and instantly recognizable or. In many ways, and I’m sure that this comparison has been drawn before, but there are elements of Paper Airplanes’ sound that are similar to that of The Decembrists. Aside from the album length narrative structure that ties all of the songs together. The way that everything was recorded, and the arrangements (beautiful use of strings appear throughout this album, as well. They underpin perfectly the keyboard and guitar led ensemble in the quieter moments. The band really does know how to use their resources to provide each song with a terrific amount of emotional depth) tend to be reminiscent of The Decembrists.
There are elements of this album that have the shade of prog-rock to it. The presence of the drums, and the large scope of the album in general are both big contributors.Something like “Chisolm Trail” that comes at the end of the album, takes its time building up momentum. A trumpet rises out of the keyboard texture only to become the backdrop to the climactic outro.
From the opening fingerpicked tension filled steel string acoustic, to the exuberant beginning of “An Account of Surprising Accuracy, Given the Messenger,” “Scandal…” simply floats from song to song.
The band is exceedingly adroit in building everything up to an exciting and memorable climax, but knowing when to back off and when to keep things simmering a bit. Take some time to listen to the album above, give it the honest listen that it deserves, maybe give it 2 or 3. You’ll be glad you did.