3 out of 5
Label: Kill Rock Stars
Produced by: John Congleton
This album makes me sad. Not directly – not due to the emotional impact of the content – but because it very much signaled the end of The Paper Chase. This turned out to be factually true soon after, with the band dissolving and kinda sorta morphing into John Congleton’s Nighty Nite, which I enjoyed, but which very much carried on the polished style that was evident here. …Which is the end to which I refer. Paper Chase had been going in this direction from the start, as their noisiest efforts were at the outset, and with their Kill Rock Stars debut, it was clear there was a bit of an ante up – a move away from hardcore spazz skronk and more towards pop, solidified further by the brilliant Now You Are One of Us, which I can now identify as the pinnacle of the latter sound. Because in my head canon, as we watched group producer (and lead PC’er) Congleton’s production credits grow from year to year, 2008 – the year before Someday This Could All Be Yours – hit a new peak, and John’s rate has remained at about that since, working on an album almost 3/4ths of the year, at least based on release dates. A partnership with St. Vincent also started around then, which would define a very synth-poppy sound which crossed over with this disc, and seemed to inspire a lot of fans to call up Johnny C for a similar sound on their own releases, as I’d say his credits behind the boards clicked up to stardom level in the years following. …Long story short: not a lot of time to make his own music.
So: polish; synth-pop. John’s obsessions with death, and a preference for a very loud and resonant low-end, gave Paper Chase an easily identifiable sound; even moreso considering Congleton’s twangy howl. While Now You Are One of Us’s narrative of zombification and singalong piano choruses was a bit neater and tidier of a package than some of the more blood-soaked and nervy tales of albums passed, it swayed back and forth between this more glistening stuff and creaky and cranky assaults which aligned with the band’s roots in noise, making for quite an affecting (and effective) listen – luring us in with pop and beating us with heavier moments.
Subtract the latter for this album. It’s all singalongs. And while the subject matter is on brand, it feels a bit phoned in, frankly: these aren’t fully imagined tales of terror, informed by John’s general paranoia: they’re very accessible and relatable Tim Burton-y takes on maladies; Halloween dress-up. Is it expertly produced, with nary a key or sample or oddball effect out of place? For sure. It’s a great performance. But it’s also very lacking in the rawness that really made the group feel often on the cusp of pounding through your speakers, blood-soaked and bearing knives; it’s safe sounding, which is ironic when you’re singing to me about natural horrors like floods and tornados. Somewhere in the middle of the disc – Your Money Or Your Life (The Comet); What Should We Do With Your Body? (The Lightning) – things loosen up a bit, and the old eyes-wide, shouting-at-walls magic is there, but it’s a very brief flirtation: upon the next track, we’re back to the album’s slick sounds.
This is not a retroactive response. I was pretty disappointed in this album upon release, and it’s retained that taint on later listens. Nighty Nite is, as mentioned, an extension of this sound, but stripped of the pretension, making their discs more repeatable. Someday This Could All Be Yours Vol. 1 makes complete sense in the Paper Chase discography, and, completely isolated from their other albums, would be a great find. But hooked on their rougher edges, the completely shaved-clean sound of this disc simply isn’t as memorable, and makes me okay with never having gotten the volume 2 conclusion.