Antenna Farm

his record establishes its air of beautiful mystery from the first sung notes. If you knew nothing of the Papercuts story, you would have a difficult time deciding whether the singer is male or female. The vocals are perfectly androgynous, akin to The Delays’ Greg Gilbert or Thom Yorke’s soaring falsetto. A bit of investigation reveals that Papercuts is essentially the labors of one man.

That man is Jason Robert Quever, a reclusive home recording enthusiast based in San Francisco. His production and collaboration credits include Cass McCombs’ first two records as well as work with Casiotone For the Painfully Alone and Duster. The Papercuts’ first record, Rejoicing Songs, was released by Cassingle USA. Mockingbird is their second release, courtesy of Antenna Farm Records, home to singer-songwriter Bart Davenport. The album was recorded in Oakland, Portland and San Francisco at Quever’s own Pan American Recordings. All songs were written, arranged and recorded by Quever, with contributions from a few special guest musicians including The Cave-Ins’ Luke Top on drums and Matt Popieluch on keyboards and backing vocals.

From the sweet, haunting sounds of the title track, Quever invites you immediately into his mysterious dreamscape, for which he provides no map. His echoing voice beckons but it’s difficult to hear what he’s saying through the layered instrumental haze. The vocals remain innocent and atmospheric throughout, often taking a back seat to the instrumentation. Like most Radiohead records, you’ll find yourself humming along with the soaring melodies long before you pick out snippets of what Quever’s singing about. This is perhaps part of the intended mystery, considering the lyrics aren’t printed in the artwork and aren’t readily available online. “You don’t have a choice,” he sings, “it’s encoded in your voice, and everything you say just makes it ten times worse.”

It’s definitely a mood record, but the moods it evokes are almost oppositional. The tapping cymbals, heartbeat bass and vocal harmonies are bright and sunny, while the organs, tempo and gentle lead vocals ooze melancholy. And while the overall feel is mellow, the shoegazing vocals are brightened by the march of the rhythm section, preventing the songs from ever getting too delicate. These tensions of opposites make the songs more interesting than what you’re accustomed to finding on an average lo-fi record.

The formula of heavy organs, angelic vocals and mid-tempo rhythms loses its charm toward the end of the record, leaving the listener wishing Quever would mix things up a bit. But the lush music and tender melodies of standout tracks “Poor and Free,” “December Morning,” and “Ivory Tower” prove to be a rewarding listen. Quever’s pure, uplifting voice makes this album a wonderful addition to your Sunday morning lo-fi landscape.

Reviewed by: Krissy Teegerstrom

Reviewed on: 2005-01-10

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