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The Graham Album Review #2066

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The Paper Kites: Roses
by George Graham

(Nettwerk Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/31/2021)

In these days and times, a little mellow music can be welcome. And while much of commercial pop seems to be headed in the opposite direction, there are a fair number of groups and artists who tend to go for a laid-back, contemplative sound. This week we have a new recording by one of the best such groups making music on the scene today, the Australian band The Paper Kites, who have just released their fifth full-length album called Roses.

The Paper Kites were formed in Melbourne, Australia in 2009 by high school friends Sam Bentley and Christina Lacy. Initially they were a mostly acoustic folk group, but in 2010 the band was expanded to a quintet with the addition of rock-style instrumentation. But the folk undercurrent remains. The group’s sound has been evolving over the years, and each of their albums has a somewhat different approach, in part because they have worked with different producers in different locations, including two albums recorded on opposite coasts of the US.

The new album Roses gets back to a more gentle sound, with Sam Bentley’s acoustic guitar being prominent, though bathed as it is in a nice sonic ambiance. But making this album distinctive from its predecessors is that each of the ten tracks features a different guest female vocalist, sometimes as a duo with Bentley, and sometimes trading verses. The guests are an international cast including Aoife O’Donovan from the US, MARO from Portugal, Julia Stone, Gena Rose Bush, and Ainslee Wills from Australia, Rosie Carney from Ireland, Lydia Cole from New Zealand, and Amanda Bergman from Sweden. Presumably, with the album largely recorded during the pandemic, the guest vocalists appeared virtually, adding their parts from their home or nearby studios. All the guests are a good match for the texture of the material.

The result is a pleasing album of tasteful ear candy, mellow but not maudlin, with lyrics that are mainly love songs.

Opening is a track called Walk Above the City, with the Portuguese vocalist MARO as the guest. It’s typical of the vaguely melancholy sound of the album, with the acoustic guitar providing the undercurrent, but bathed in pillowy sonic ambiance. <<>>

One of my favorite folk-influenced vocalists Aoife O’Donovan, known for her work with the group Crooked Still, appears on a piece called Climb on Your Tears, whose title indicates the melancholy nature of the song. The musical setting is a little more electric. <<>>

The introspective folk side is highlighted on Dearest with New Zealander vocalist Lydia Cole, in a really beautiful track. <<>>

I have remarked in the past that The Paper Kites at times show the influence of the obscure but acclaimed Scottish band The Blue Nile. Steal My Heart, featuring fellow Australian Ainslie Willis is a bit of a sonic tip of the hat to the Blue Nile, in the style of arranging and the spacey synthesizer sound. The Paper Kites picked a good source for th eir influence on this song. <<>>

One of the more distinctive tracks on Roses is Without Your Love with Australian Julia Stone as the guest. Sam Bentley seems to be channeling a little Lou Reed in the opening section <<>> before the track cranks it up to about as high a decibel level as this album gets. <<>>

Another bit of a departure is Crossfire with Swiss vocalist Amanda Bergman, who brings a kind of world-weary chanteuse approach to the song. Bentley said he spent a long time searching for the right guest vocalist for the song. <<>>

The “spacey folk” quality of the album is highlighted on For All You Gave, with English singer Lucy Rose essentially singing a duet throughout with Bentley. <<>>

The album concludes with a melancholy love song called By My Side, with Irish singer Rose Carney as the guest on the track. The piano-based arrangement with a little steel guitar gives the track a distinctive sound in the context of the rest of the album.

Roses the new fifth full length recording by the Melbourne based group The Paper Kites is a kind of perfect rainy day record, laid-back and mellow, but generally positive in mood. The series of ten guest women vocalists adds an interesting touch. All make worthwhile contributions to the sound. Lyrically, the songs are not really very profound, but are tasteful and literate. The band’s arrangements are subtle and often stripped down to a guitar or two, though the use of reverb and ambiance makes it sound fuller and often atmospheric.

And our grade for sound quality is an “A,” for the clean, warm mix and how very effectively the digital reverberation is used to provide the rather luxurious, inviting sound of the album.

High energy music has its place to excite and perhaps to dance to. But it’s nice to chill out from time to time. And Roses by the Paper Kites provides just the ticket.

(c) Copyright 2021 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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