Praise for Analog-iness

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Posted 26 Mar 2010

Paper Airplane, a Columbus-by-way-of-Marysville band, isn’t part of any distinct musical trend or genre.

The band played the Toledo’s “Indie Pop” festival, so there’s that. But if you’re looking for off-kilter vocals to go with your catchy choruses, you won’t find them here. (Don’t look for a basic verse/chorus/verse structure, either.)

Singer Ryan Horns is a vocal acrobat, and his clever melodies and impressive pipes take center stage on every Paper Airplane song. Like most frontmen who unabashedly embrace their inner pop, he makes no bones about sitting below the dais of Lennon and McCartney, though it’s hard to say whom he favors more.

The band’s new CD, White Elephants, is presented like a cassette tape—with two theoretical sides, complete with the sound effect of a tape being inserted at the beginning and flipped halfway through.

It’s a more visceral record than 2007’s Middlemarch. Formerly polished guitars have been excoriated a bit, and you may be able to tell that much of the album was recorded onto analog tape (by Cincinnati’s Brian Niesz and Columbus Discount Recording’s Adam Smith). There’s also more synthesizer; the synth riffs on “Until It’s Gone” and “Car Crash” are surprisingly Times New Viking-ish.

But I have a feeling all of those sonic divergences are more subtle than the band realizes. If you’ve heard Middlemarch, there’s not much here that’ll shock your pants off.

White Elephants is, however, more thematically cohesive. The album is based around its title track, which Horns wrote at the request of his uncle, who wanted a song written about his two-year battle with cancer. (Horns’s uncle, unfortunately, died two weeks before he had the chance to hear the song performed live.) It’s a song about death’s emotional impact (“All we have is family/And all we have is one another”) as much as the tough-to-swallow practicalities that contribute to that final sendoff (“You’re caught between life and the cost of your health”).

The other songs follow in the vein of “White Elephants,” some reminiscing, some looking forward, some both. The strongest ones (“It’s Almost Over,” “Until It’s Gone”) are devoid of insouciance, filled instead with an incensed passion that Horns couldn’t hide if he tried.

And while not every song on White Elephants is as memorable as it could be, there’s enough of that passion to further cement Paper Airplane’s place in Columbus’s pop pantheon.

Paper Airplane will hold a CD release show beginning at 10 p.m. Friday at Ruby Tuesday, 1978 Summit St. Also on the bill are Winter Makes Sailors and Super Desserts. – The Other Paper