Papercuts is the debut album of Salem, MA based trio Radio Compass. Truly original, its twelve songs are evocative, atmospheric, and escape categorization.
Radio Compass defines themselves as a “DreamPunk Alt-rock” band. What the fuck is DreamPunk, you ask?
That’s what made reviewing this album difficult. I’ve truly never heard music that seems to fit into a genre like this. I wasn’t even sure I liked this album until the third listen. Opening track “Cider and Lime” is immaculately recorded and mixed, but lead vocalist and guitarist Angela Lee’s vocals are indecipherable, swallowed in reverb, and full of mis-stresses. In track #2 she actually takes a break halfway through the word “transparency,” maybe for a cigarette or something. In track #3 “DNR” I compared Lee to Lisa Kudrow singing “Smelly Cat,” and at one point in my notes I even wrote “maybe it’s punk because she’s a shitty singer.”
And then, the next day, I listened without my notes from the previous day, and found myself nodding my head to the beat.
The third listen made me actively love this album, and I don’t know how the shit that happened, but let me try and explain.
It’s a poppy album – simple chord progressions dominate each song, Lee has a Britney rasp to the beginning of her phrases, many songs are in 4/4, and it really is produced exceptionally well. The songs are catchy – “DNR,” “Dirty Little Strangers,” and “Let Go” especially got stuck in my head.
And really, if you look into the music, punk music is poppy as hell. The Sex Pistols only knew about four chords between them, and those chords happen to make up the most generic chord progressions in music history. The Ramones were completely image-centric, a product of their era, ironically trapped by their rebelliousness. Punk music is just pop with a bad attitude.
And what about the “Dream” part? Okay. Well, Lee’s ambient electric guitar creates intense, vivid moods for the album. Backing harmony and double-tracked lead vocals definitely contribute to an overall sense of dreaminess.
So maybe “DreamPunk” is moody, suggestive pop music, performed with heaps of attitude.
In that case, this album is the best god damn DreamPunk album of all time. Why not take a break halfway through “transparency?” Why not? There’s a tangible amount of “fuck it” laced throughout this album, and once I got over trying to figure out the genre, I could notice how impressive the band’s members are musically.
Jill Rogers-Jensen is the band’s drummer, and fills the spot perfectly. She has an innate pop sensibility and her playing is concise and appropriate. Andrew Smith’s basslines compliment his bandmates wonderfully, never taking the spotlight but always enhancing the song.
The album builds all the way through, and final track “Blindsided” is my favourite one, with electronic instrumentation and a beautiful ending redolent of the Pixies. Speaking of different instrumentation, Radio Compass doesn’t balk at acoustic guitar or synths, and many of their songs feature unusual arrangements, which only enhance the band’s individuality.
Lee’s lyrics are direct and unpretentious, full of casual and effective imagery, and their occasional predictability didn’t bother me at all.
Ultimately, this album surprised me; it’s an innovative and unfamiliar style carried out with genuine passion and talent. My original biases proved to be incorrect and I’m very grateful to Radio Compass for reminding me not to rely on first impressions.
Teach yourself about DreamPunk by visiting the band’s Bandcamp page here and enjoy submerging yourself in an indisputably fascinating album.
1. Cider and Lime
4. Dirty Little Strangers
5. On Fire
6. Let Go
7. Good Morning, Good Morning
8. Out of the Blue
9. Sweet Passenger
10. Not Here Anymore