Paper Thick Walls – A Thousand Novels

Band: Paper Thick Walls
Album: A Thousand Novels
Release Date: May 3, 2011

It’s taken me awhile to draw up a review of Paper Thick Walls’ debut album. I want to say I got access to it a good month ago, and in that time have been squeezing in listens between spins of Canyon’s EP, a two-piece I saw perform in central Pennsylvania late last month, Dr. Dog’s Shame, Shame, an album I totally skipped over last year — no matter the catchiness to their 2010 single, “Shadow People” — and early Led Zeppelin.

I’ve been on a Zeppelin kick lately, actually, and much of it has to do with a rather poorly written biography I’ve dug into penned by their old touring manager. It’s pretty sensational and I don’t know how much of it I want to believe, but Richard Cole’s supposed insider information is engaging, at least.

So Led Zeppelin III and IV have gotten a lot of play lately.

For now, though, it’s the business of Paper Thick Walls’ debut album, a project I think I can describe best as spotty. Some tracks on it I like. Many, unfortunately, I don’t. But I do think there’s enough promising material on A Thousand Novels to carry into a more successful next album if and when PTW gets there.

A bit ridiculous, I know, to be talking sophomore album on the same day the debut gets released, but that’s how I’ll roll here.

We’ll start with the promising stuff because that’s more fun to write about. Namely, the heart of the album, for me, boils down to tracks five (“A Thousand Novels”) and six (“Desolate Place”). On them, PTW evokes a darkness that seems to work real well. It’s a wonder to me, really, why they settled for mostly cutesier fair on the other eight tracks.

The last half of “A Thousand Novels” — the song — is richly dense in guitar and piano, and some wailing, too. It’s a total departure from what came before it, and is also that rare title track that happens to be one of — if not the — best parts of the album. There’s a future, I think, for PTW in tunes like “A Thousand Novels.”

As well, the track that follows — “Desolate Place” — is a standout for, again, sounding largely different from the other songs. It’s driving piano is ominous, really, and the repetition between instruments and lyric and back again is nice.

Perhaps I haven’t heard piano so prominently in awhile, but part of the allure of PTW is how much they like banging keys. This is true of “Old Weathered Wooden Dock,” which opens A Thousand Novels with a rather lovely graph of words:

From an old weathered wooden dock
I watch my papa, cast his line
In a boat hovered atop
Lilies fish refuse to bite
It’s a coping mechanism
To immerse oneself
In oh what lovely scenes

The rest of A Thousand Novels, then, is where the spottiness comes from. I think after awhile the disc started sounding the same to me, with many of the refrains coming away flat.

As well, while Kate Schell is mostly a winner on vocals, I think Eric Michaels is too dramatic. (In a way totally opposite to how “A Thousand Novels” — again, the song — is dramatic). Outside of the tunes I liked, I think Eric sounded too breathy for me. I don’t think his execution is in tune with Kate.

With that said, PTW’s got something in the edgier corners of A Thousand Novels, and I think exploring that a bit might be exciting.

Extras:

  • Paper Thick Walls’ official record release show is Friday at The Hideout with Derek Nelson and The Musicians. Tickets are $8.

Paper Thick Walls perform “Old Weathered Wooden Dock” in January:

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About Eric

Hello there. Email your things to chicagotunes[at]gmail[dot]com.
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