Ben Menghini, Alumni Reporter/Regular Guy
Sam Filby, Guest Writer/Awesome Guy
It’s hard to argue that pop music isn’t inherently evil. Let’s face it: most music played on popular radio stations sounds less like a form of art and more like the results of music industry experts getting together and using formulas to create bland, yet somewhat catchy songs. Art often, if not always, reflects the thoughts and concerns of the era in which it was created. Taking this as truth and examining modern pop music, it’s hard to take the lack of substance as something positive, especially since pop music is popular music, reflecting the taste of the masses. However, there is hope for pop, and that hope is seen on Paper Route’s newest record, The Peace of Wild Things, an album that blurs the lines between pop music and art with substance. It’s a eclectic mix between the artsy electronic shoegaze of M83 and the pop sensibilities of Katy Perry.
The Peace of Wild Things arrives at a trim ten tracks (eleven on iTunes), timing out at just over forty minutes. Now known as “the album that almost didn’t happen,” the album comes hot off the press as the widely anticipated follow up to Absence (2009), Paper Route’s full length debut. Released a year later than expected, production was plagued by personal hardships of all kinds, including an uninterested label and the exit of founding member Andy Smith. Emerging from the trials rejuvenated and releasing completely independently, Paper Route are bearing the full force of their bravado in an album that thoroughly thrills, even if it doesn’t completely satisfy.
Paper Route are fondly remembered at Greenville College as an important landmark in the school’s history, pioneering the Blackroom Records music label as For All The Drifters, a crowd-pleasing rock band riding the the wake of the emo-rock explosion, that disappointingly fizzled out shortly after moving to Nashville. J.T. Daly, Chad Howat, and Andy Smith rebounded shortly after with a new electronic-rock perspective as Paper Route. Known for their sensitive lyrics, exhilarating innovations, and thrilling live performances, they have spent the past 8 years carving out a niche for themselves from their original Midwest audiences, and spreading out to both coasts and even overseas in Europe.
Fans of past albums may recognize a major shift in the mentality of the album, trading the pursuit of fame for that of popularity. That should not, however, diminish the accomplishments of this new effort, which deserves recognition in its own right. As the grunge and industrial influences fade into the past like “memories as heavy as a stone,” a new Paper Route emerges, having conquered the indie music world, ready to take down the Top 40 pop sensations.
Although the unexpected twists and turns of Absence are missing, every track of The Peace promises to get stuck in your ear with driving, hip-hop influenced beats, heart aching refrains, and itchy, skin crawling synth-lines. J.T. Daly, now singing lead full-time, seems undaunted at filling the gap left behind by Smith. His voice soars through choruses and bounces through the verses, backed by vocal samples, echoes, and choirs, conjuring strings from thin air before giving way to roaring lead guitars. As a frontman, Daly is both the ringleader of the circus, juggling fire and taming the lion, and the curator of the museum, ushering the listener through ringing halls adorned with colorful portraits and sparkling glimpses into past lives.
The Peace of Wild Things, as a title, is a sort of contradiction, because these are songs that can keep a person up all night. The album is a departure from Absence and isn’t quite the follow up many Paper Route fans were looking for, but its own unique strength is highlighed in the tracks “Two Hearts”, “Glass Heart Hymn”, “Rabbit Holes”, and the iTunes bonus “Born in Love”. “Two Hearts” reaches for the rock/pop perfection that “Wish” carried out in the last album. Although it would have benefited from the growling, distorted, theremin-inspired guitar solo that took “Wish” to the next level, it carves out its own overpowering electric vibe that will potentially dominate live performances. “Glass Heart Hymn” drives a major wedge between Paper Route’s older emo-rock roots and their current sound. Carried on a euro-house dance beat and peaking with a hallelujah choir, it offers an indiscriminate blessing on the things left in the past. No discussion of The Peace is complete without mention of the enigmatic track “Rabbit Holes”. Abandoning the song structure followed throughout most of the album, this track bends, twists, swings wide and then turns in on itself as the listener is sonically dragged down the proverbial rabbit hole. The final track, “Born in Love”, is a throwback to the pre-Absence era, conjuring memories of “You Kill Me” and “In The Morning”. Vocally, however, J.T. continues the upfront, echoing cries that characterize him as a solo frontman.
After everything is said and done, it may be possible to accuse Paper Route of having all the heart without any soul. The album is filled with pain, heartache, and the hope for change, not lacking in passion or resolve, but just missing those moments of transcendence that are hinted at in “Glass Heart Hymn”, “Tamed”, and “Calm My Soul”. It has a lot of bluster, but often it is missing the spine to back it up. Though The Peace of Wild Things isn’t as strong as Absence, it is by no means a sophomore slump. It doesn’t transcend pop music, but instead uses it as a tool and a medium in order to bring brilliant music to a wider audience.
Purchase “The Peace of Wild Things”