FLASHBACK: Paper Beat Scissors – Paper Beat Scissors (2012)

coverBy Ryan Smith

So, a week ago, I was very excited to attend the release of Toronto band Find The Others’ exceptional album Empire of Time, and I was utterly blown away by one of the opening acts, the Halifax-based project Paper Beat Scissors. You see, normally I loathe opening acts, and tend to write them off as filler lined up by hopeless promoters who don’t know the first thing about the headliner, other than they’re enough of a draw to be a headliner. Imagine my surprise when the project’s mastermind Tim Crabtree took the stage and delivered one of the greatest live performances I have seen to date. My hat’s off to the Forward Music Group label for arranging such an exceptional line-up (which was completed by the talented Gianna Lauren) and venue (Burdock Music Hall) for the show.

From the moment swells of French horn, fiddle, guitar, and other breathtaking ambient elements, began to caress my eardrums, I knew this group was something special. I was told later that, put together only recently by Crabtree, the band’s current live configuration had only rehearsed twice before being thrust onto the live scene. I assure you, I had no idea. The raw talent of each member prevailed over a ‘practice makes perfect’ mentality, coming together to grace us with an energetic and captivating performance. By the time the first song was finished, I knew I had to add this record to my collection.

Appealing to me as a seemingly impossible combination of elements from artists like Bon Iver, Mumford & Sons, James Blunt, and Radiohead (add Jeremy Enigk to that list, a colleague of mine points out!), Paper Beat Scissors’ full-length self-titled release is a stunner to be sure. I’ll admit that Paper Beat Scissors the album didn’t quite live up to what the band had presented live, but I assure you that it is wholly remarkable in its own right. Walking the line between folk and experimental ambient, Paper Beat Scissors’ self-titled record is replete with beautifully atmospheric grandeur, tender folk song-writing, and bold alternative oddities.

Paper Beat Scissors: Tim Crabtree. Photo: N. Wilkinson

Paper Beat Scissors: Tim Crabtree. Photo: N. Wilkinson

While “Ends In Themselves” begins conventionally enough, with guitar arpeggios and very mainstream, if quite remarkably unique, vocals, the project’s great gift becomes apparent around halfway through, when the horns (French and euphonium) chime in and warm things up tremendously. Brief electro highlights also add to the atmosphere. “Season’s Rest” presents a very modern folk sound, with acoustic guitar, steady and powerful drums, and Crabtree’s fantastic vocals. The glorious horns once again warm things up subtly beginning at the halfway point. It ends with a vibrant coda that will no doubt appeal to fans of the modern indie folk movement.

Perhaps my favourite song on the record, “Folds,” shows off Crabtree’s dynamic range, offering up a dimmer piece that is really quite moving. The melody is gorgeous, paving the way for a spectacular chorus. Subtle instrumental ambiance creeps throughout the song as well, adding a third dimension to what would otherwise be a simple acoustic ballad. Another stunning, though more electric piece, “Rest Your Bones,” follows. The grand movement that ends this piece sums up everything that is incredible about this project. It’s my favourite single moment on the record. Paper Beat Scissors continues with a very subdued sound that combines the intimacy of Bon Iver’s first album with the eclectic instrumental approach of the second.

I guess I’m going to have to just let loose with my one gripe, in hopes that I don’t offend and put anyone off from discovering such an immense talent. During the live show, the horns and fiddle and Crabtree’s vocal stood together as immense pillars of equal size and volume. A severely notable bass player made things even more interesting. On the record, however, the horn and string sections, and indeed the rhythm section, take more of a backseat, creating an odd sort of vacuum. Tim Crabtree’s vocals are absolutely fantastic, but by the end of the record, I find myself growing used to them and wishing for more from his amazing instrumental sections, forcing my ears take it out on his vocals a little more than they should. I feel that had the songs featured regular instrumental breaks, everything would have felt much more balanced and this listener would have nothing more to want from the record. While individual songs, such as “Watch Me Go,” shine brilliantly, the overall lack of balance on Paper Beat Scissors can be a tad draining on repeated listens. My opinion only.

Despite that one minor flaw, Paper Beat Scissors is a fantastic record that shows off a great emotional palette and shines with fine instrumentation. Three years have passed since the release of this album, that’s a lot of time to grow as a musician. Judging by how awesome the band’s performance was last week, I’d safely confirm that Paper Beat Scissors is poised for great things. During his live show, Tim Crabtree mentioned possibly making another record this summer. By firmly supporting his great songwriting gift through use of the awesome power his current line-up conjures up on stage, I sincerely believe Crabtree’s Paper Beat Scissors’ sophomore record will be one for the books.

RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.