Parallel Universe Blues

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Papercuts' sixth album, Parallel Universe Blues, had a lot of change wrapped up in its creation. After a decade-plus run of albums created mainly in his Bay Area home studio, the band's main driving force, Jason Quever, relocated to Los Angeles and decided to work in a real studio. There was also another new label in the mix, this time Slumberland Records. Most importantly, the Papercuts' sound went through some major renovations. On past records, Quever created the aural equivalent of going back to bed and pulling the covers over your head; warm layers of guitars and keys, gentle percussion, and his whispered hum of a voice all combined to wrap around the listener like a hug from a friend. This album strips away some of the layers and lets the individual instruments come through more clearly, as do Quever's vocals. The songs are simple with sturdy hooks and a nice shoegaze/noise pop quality that really helps them stick. Quever seems to be working out some real-life changes, too, as many of the songs feel ripped from his daily journal and there's a little bit of raw emotion in his voice that he used to keep hidden in the waves of echo and reverb. Tracks like "How to Quit Smoking" and "Kathleen Says" are immediate and moving guitar pop gems, "Sing to Me Candy" shows that Quever can still write a knockout ballad, and he even cranks the tempo up on a couple tracks (like "Walk Backwards") that conjure up some serious Aislers Set comparisons. The change in sound works perfectly and is especially welcome considering that the previous Papercuts album (2014's Life Among the Savages) smoothed out the band's sound a little too much. There's no worry of that here. Even though the album is still arranged and produced with great care and Quever's vocals and melancholy melodies are as affecting and cozy as ever, there's a bit of extra energy and spirit in these songs that give the album a huge boost and help make this the best Papercuts album yet.

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