The Paper Kites – Roses
Indie Rock | Folk | Synth Pop
To my mind, minus a few rare examples, an album should always strive to feel cohesive. That doesn’t mean that every track should be cast from the same mould per se, eclectic albums can still feel cohesive, instead it simply means that every album should feel like a collection of songs that were meant to be together. Sounding like a distinct era, a snapshot of a moment in time, the finest examples are those where even an unfamiliar listener could feasibly pick the right songs out of a line-up based solely on how well they compliment each other. As well as standing on their own merit, each track should elevate those around it, so that the record is greater than the sum of its parts.
Given the unique selling point of Roses – how each track is a duet with a different artist – I was worried the end result was going to be an utter mess. Too many cooks spoil the broth as the saying goes, and so my first instinct was that all those disparate voices vying for attention would leave the record feeling far too disjointed and rudderless. I recall The National went down a similar route for I Am Easy To Find, with their cast of collaborators pulling the release in so many opposing directions that the band felt like strangers on their own album. I was pleasantly surprised then to discover that The Paper Kites have succeeded in crafting a wonderfully cohesive record. The globe-spanning selection of guest vocalists feels carefully chosen, with thought clearly given to what track suits them best and what they can bring to it. Roses manages to maintain a difficult balancing act between familiarity and invention. Each artist is a perfect fit for the band’s established sound, like they’ve always been a member of the band in another life, but the record also succeeds in having each of them put their own unique stamp on it.
This release excels as a collection of duets, but it does have a few shortcomings simply as a Paper Kites album. My chief complaint is with the album’s pacing. While the record chiefly focuses on the band’s softer folk side, you do get a couple of more expansive and upbeat tracks to sink your teeth into. The dreamy ‘Climb On Your Tears’ with Aoife O’Donovan has that sublime bittersweet feeling and boasts some gorgeous guitar work in the latter half, while the synth-drenched ‘Steal My Heart Away’ with Ainslie Wills is home to a melody rich chorus that would feel right at home on the soundtrack of a John Hughes film. These moments really shine out as the album’s highlights, but given that they’re both within the first few tracks the record does lose a lot of steam in the second half. This isn’t helped by the two weakest tracks hovering by the midpoint. ‘Crossfire’ and ‘Lonely’ don’t have a lot going on instrumentally and lack the spark found in other tracks, with the former in particular feeling a tad too lethargic. Ultimately I think one or two more fleshed out songs distributed evenly in the tracklist would have done wonders for the flow of the album.
The Paper Kites are one of those bands that walk a fine line when it comes to quality. On paper there’s very little that separates one of their songs from being just another perfectly likeable song, and from being something that touches your heart and makes your spirit soar. You can’t quite put your finger on what exactly it is that tips the scales, but some songs of their just have a truly special spark to them. Roses manages to be a cohesive collection that makes great use of its array of guest vocalists, but while it never strays far from the line it never quite manages to cross it. There’s nothing here that shares inexplicable magic of tracks like ‘Bloom’, ‘Revelator Eyes‘ or ‘Deep Burn Blue’, nothing that feels like it ranks amongst their best work. In the end if you’re looking for a great album of duets then it’s well worth a listen, but if you’re just after a great Paper Kites album then this probably won’t be your first port of call.