Chicago based indie-folk-pop five-piece Paper Thick Walls played their first nyc concert last week at Rockwood Music Hall and, as Woody discovered last year, Rockwood has two stages and I, like Woody, went to the wrong one and missed them.
Based upon their debut album, “A Thousand Novels" to be released on May 3rd, it was my loss: Paper Thick Walls are a thoughtful, pretty indie folk band with more than a dose of a darker side.
From the get-go on the opening track “Old Weathered Wooden Dock,” Paper Thick Walls exudes contemporary upper-Midwestern charm, lyrically replete with the emotions with which 21st-century American youth wrestle as they confront a world larger, more complex, and more painful than suburban comforts lead one to imagine at a young age. The music is upbeat, with backing glockenspiel, fiddle, and a section of clapped rhythm lending a homegrown fairy-tale like quality to the composition that is driven by singer Kate Schell’s sugary sweet voice. Schell is one part of a duet that also features Eric Michaels, whose calm raspy voice compliments Schell’s nicely; the two harmonize prettily and to dramatic effect throughout the album.
It would be easier for Paper Thick Walls to stick to the folksy-charm formula established on “Old Weathered Wooden Dock,” but the band displays a greater and more interesting ambition throughout the album. “Sighs of Relief,” flirts with balladry, pulling back just before entering that genre, and the title track “A Thousand Novels,” features a mournful, fiddle and piano-backed duet from Schell and Michaels that builds to a surprisingly heavy breakdown. Paper Thick Walls will often switch between their folksy, plucked side and their darker, string-driven haunting side, resulting in a sound that is more diverse than the opening track would lead you to believe.
Lyrically, the band is as varied and blends personal contemporary lyrics with Americana infused storytelling. “Orange Tree,” which begins as a childhood, Huck Finn-like love story between two troublemakers, sung as a duet between Schell and Michaels, deftly turns to an on the run, life or death tale where the pair promise a lovers’ suicide rather than turning themselves in, with Schell singing, “And if that man should put a gun to your head/I’ll wrap my mouth around the barrel and squeeze it,” and Michaels echoing the latter half of the verse in typical duet style. Not your typical love duet fare, but one that makes for a richer, more intriguing story. With Paper Thick Walls, each classic folk trope is followed with a dark twist that permeates and colors the earlier lyric, like food coloring clouding a glass of water.
My verdict, then, is that Paper Thick Walls’ “A Thousand Novels” is quite good. Not only are their compositions very nicely crafted, with the band displaying a penchant for a number of musical styles, their storytelling will keep you entertained and often contains elements of that darkness that lends a haunting quality to a song. Take a look.