Paper Crowns Review by Greg Clifford BLIN crafts a fine fusion of folk, country and soul for her debut release. The Melbourne songstress delivers a genuinely pure and honest album. She makes a virtue of subtle, yet highly effective, production and clever instrumentation, which is engaging, nostalgic, poignant and even dark at times. Proceedings get under way with the highly impressive ‘Bare Bones’. It sets the tone accurately for the rest of the album with its eerie character. Her voice evokes melancholic scenes and she grants the listener an insight into her world with a performance that has attitude yet modesty. The languid style explored here is one of psychedelic folk/country rock comparable to COWBOY JUNKIES. Special mention must also go to the astute use of the woodwind, which hovers above creeping in and out in a ghostly fashion. Up next is ‘Infinite Procession’, which bares a resemblance to CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG at times. What I like about this track is how Blin takes the standard folk elements and transforms them into something more avant guard, like a dystopian country song (which I mean in the best way possible). The lonely harmonica accompanied by sparse drum at the death is a suburb touch. It plays a cheerful melody that within the context of the track is quite twisted. There’s real depth and ingenuity here! ‘Paper Crowns’ has a ‘gather round the campfire’ feel to it. It’s stripped back and tells the story of leaving the ‘paper towns’. Escaping shallow, superficiality and venturing towards purity is suggested. The constant pitched percussion and guitar ostinato conveys a horseback journey across a starry sky, while the choral entries further evoke the campfire. The vocal performance is strong and assured here. ‘Not Alone’ offers the listener something new. It wouldn’t be my favorite track, but I applaud the attempt to show off different aspects and angles. ‘I’ve seen so many faces in this lonely crowd’ touches on the insignificance of life and broken dreams. However, the bittersweet tale offers hope in the uplifting chorus, which contains traces of BRIAN WILSON. The chorus gives tough times the middle finger and prompts the listener to look on the bright side and soldier on. The beautiful piano outro is also worthy of mention. Next
10 track ‘Stand Up Strong’ is another country type ballad. Musicians moving around the microphone and breath sounds are heard from the outset. This makes it all quite real and ‘human’. The subject matter is similar to the previous song. Despite the ‘cracks’ appearing and the weight of living we must do as the title says and stand up strong. Vigorous backing vocals hit home the message by creating unity. ‘Beaten Track’ is next and conjures up a sense of longing, amidst 60s soul/country undertones. The track is poetic and lonesome, and the woodwind entries create a dreamy air. The lead guitar works well here also. It never demands too much attention, but is executed perfectly and compliments Blin’s vocal display. The subtle hand claps, shakers and tambourine hits on beat 4 make it alluring. It’s an ideal lazy festival track; sun threatening to set, shades on and beer in hand.
‘Doin’ Time’ is the 7th track. For me it’s a bit of a filler. However, that’s completely forgivable as up to this point the album has been a resounding success. It’s an intimate number with pleasant slide guitar moments carrying the song on. ‘Ghosts’ is served up next and kicks off with stripped back vocals accompanied by guitar and percussion. When the track takes flight it reminds me of MOBY a bit, albeit it folky and acoustic rather than synths and sampling. ‘Moving Me’ is another country love ballad. Neil Young-esque harmonica is the highlight for me here. Interesting, this track comes across as being a song from a type of pop musical due to its contrasts in dynamics and general structure. The pronounced and clear words also establish this feel. ‘It’s Time’, the penultimate song, is gradually preparing the listener for the end. It features haunting drones and woodwind passages. The track has a certain ‘falling apart’. It certainly benefits from this spacey, psychedelic, strung out feel. I’m a sucker for a well-written instrumental track and that’s exactly what Blin offers us as she closes the album out with ‘Tomorrow’s People’. The pianist really excels here, exhibiting a shrewd feel and touch. A tempo rubato unfolds, as a sporadic shaker is superimposed to create an eerie presence. Overall this is a very accomplished, mature album containing strong imagery, lyrically speaking. It’s a ‘real’ album, as opposed to a passive collection of songs. Its focus is not set in the mainstream yet the songs still possess a charm and accessibility that is easy to fall for. The album is pretty authentic and does not require mass production. The aural colours, arrangements and timbres explored makes this a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience and is an album I will surely return to. Blin not only has a wonderful voice but also presents herself as a true musician, who has collaborated with the right people for this project.
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Published on Oct 5, 2014
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