Life Among the Savages

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One of the main pleasures of listening to a Papercuts album is the care and feeding the band's chief architect, Jason Quever, puts into the arrangements. His skills at layering sounds and creating dreamily soft atmospheres have not only made his own albums a candy-tasting treat, but also led to him being an in-demand producer. Papercuts' most recent album before this, 2011's Fading Parade, was the group's masterpiece. The aching beauty of the melodies, the shimmering baroque pop feel, and the emotion Quever invested in the songs all came together to create something magical. It would be nice to say 2014's Life Among the Savages continued the trend and built upon the production; instead, Quever pulls back and aims for something more intimate and a little less arranged. That's not to say the album is stark or under-produced, only that there is more space between the instruments and there are moments of quiet calm that put the focus squarely on Quever's vocals. It's a move that could be seen as a disappointment for people who love big, orchestrated albums, but there's a heartfelt honesty to much of Life that is refreshing and the album has just as much emotional impact as anything Papercuts have done. Maybe even more, as Quever's voice and words convey some real pain that's rarely obscured by the music, as it may have been in the past. The slowly unwinding piano ballad "Easter Morning" is probably the best example of this, with Quever sounding fragile and lost as he gently plays the keys. To go along with the unvarnished sadness and midtempo melancholy, there are a few songs that sparkle a little and give the album some balance, like the sweetly jangling "Family Portrait" and the insistent, cello-led "Afterlife Blues." Mostly though, the album is a beautiful downer. It shows that Quever isn't just a sonic magician who can craft pillow-soft dream pop and ornate indie pop; he can also make music that has true intimacy and emotion running through it like an electrical current. Life Among the Savages isn't the easiest Papercuts album to love, but over repeated listens the mood the restrained sound creates and the subtle emotion the songs convey are more than enough to win over anyone who decides to stick with it.

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