Paper Airplanes – Boyhood
These guys are willing and capable of re-drawing the lines of indie-rock.
A year or two from now, you will stroll into your post-modern short-short-fiction class, pull up a chair and wait. The professor will rush in five minutes late, papers all a flutter and cue up a song for the class to analyze. A Paper Airplanes song will jump from the speakers, maybe “True Men Like You Men” or “Julius.” You will listen, parsing phrases, straining to nail down the squirming narrative, and you will find it. When you do, you’ll realize that you enjoyed listening, too.
Because that’s what Paper Airplanes do. On their newest full-length album – Boyhood – they push and pull at music’s concept of narration, and they do so while paying musical homage to indie-rockers The Flaming Lips, Built to Spill, And Academy, and The Strokes. “Julius” opens with the words, “From the start I’ve lacked narration,” and spills through a meander of words and images, proving the bobbing and weaving they claim is both musically and lyrically accurate.
Paper Airplanes’ instrumentation reads more like a traveling orchestra than an indie-rock outfit, scattering violin, cello, accordion, French horn, timpani, chimes, trombone, and trumpet across the breadth of Boyhood. The term breadth is warranted; this album sprawls ten songs over nearly 45 minutes, and Paper Airplanes does so without losing this listener’s interest.
Opening with “The Fences,” the album thematically traces the feelings of being young, coming of age, and the questions we wanted to ask but weren’t quite able to put words to. A twinkle of bells touches off a stripped-down acoustic intro, accompanied by the fuzzed-out vocals of Marcus Stoesz as he repeats “Sometimes the world brings me back to old / never mind the fences I once called home.” This is repeated as the entire ensemble barrels in. A brief interlude of synth, timpani, bells, and falsetto voices follows before an abrupt, single electric guitar walks down a scale into a drum-and-cymbal race. The tension mounts with each measure until it cannot be held in, and just when you’d imagine the big, crashing conclusion, it drops to near-nothing. I can’t help but imagine Paper Airplanes, sitting around listening to Weezer’s perfect “Only In Dreams,” unknowingly laying the structure for “The Fences.”
A seamless flow into “pda” follows, as a driving piano and distorted drums lead along Anthony Piazza’s rising bass lines. The song rollicks through break-downs, with Stoesz hollering, “Steady fingers holding hands / steady fingers holding hands. / Why is it you’re not around?” They reiterate the theme of lost or forgotten childhood, as a gang-vocal sings, “Oh nothing can take my childhood away, oh no no no (this is starting to aggravate us all).”
Boyhood tests limits in “Appalachia,” with a banjo line backed by a string section and sleigh bells… Yes, I repeat: sleigh bells. Paper Airplanes aren’t settling for limits in Boyhood, but I’m not sure they’ve come to their conclusions. These guys are restless…creatively restless. If this is what getting into one’s stride sounds like, I can’t wait to hear what’s to come.
-Timothy C. Avery