The Paper Chase
Now You Are One of Us
2006
B+



throughout the past few years, Dallas-based quartet The Paper Chase has distilled everyday life into a thrashing, emotional query on the human dilemma of biding time before death. Never has this been more apparent than Now You Are One of Us. John Congleton, The Paper Chase's mastermind, front-man and studio wizard, uses his jagged musical approach to fuse samples, razor-sharp guitar lines, hollow percussion, detuned piano, and an ethereal string section with his own nasal voice.

The opening riff of “We Know Where You Sleep” presents one of the album's reoccurring themes: a large, ominous presence causing assimilation into namelessness. The existential black cloud makes it quickly evident that Now will be less introspective than previous albums (as God Bless Your Black Heart deconstructed desire's many forms), and with samples from horror films floating throughout, Congleton is less concerned this time around with his own black heart than with the idea of fear, both as a paralyzing force and a catalyst to anonymity. Childhood terrors also figure predominantly into the ambient, ghastly landscape, with the first song's repeated chorus of “we know where you sleep” lurking around every corner, as just one of the oft-repeated phrases that tie the album together.

There's something horrifying in the common experience of transition from childhood to adulthood, and The Paper Chase throw everything that they have at it, from ghoulish theremin to Congleton's possessed vocals that vacillate from being nakedly upfront to distorted background wails of noise. “The Kids Will Grow Up to Be Assholes” and “Wait Until I Get My Hands on You” escalate the album's fear into utter hopelessness, with both songs matched by stumbling, claustrophobic drumming that lurches as it trips over itself.

The album's midpoint and most oddly melodic moment, the piano-and-violin-centered “You Will Never Take Me Alive,” has Congleton facing the zombification of fear by looking it in the face, his voice quivering and breaking as he repeats the song's title until it fuses into a mantra that carries the rest of the record. The Paper Chase make albums, not singles, and the album's final half is proof of that, bleeding together (and linked through Congleton's fondness for claustrophobic interludes of white noise or haunted-house sound) to take apart the mountain of embedded crises they've built, fighting back against apathy (“We Will Make You One of Us”) and assimilation (“You're One of Them Aren't You?”).

It’s this climax, the album-ending affirmation of “we will show this cruel world we were here” that comes like a hard-won victory against the disembodied horror samples and cascading discord, which sets Now You Are One of Us as The Paper Chase's most embittered and yet most hopeful album. It’s a passionate and at times painful aural experience as a whole, but it’s one that has to be taken from start to finish. With this album, The Paper Chase have strongly placed two feet into the dirt and, like the album’s oft-repeated phrase insists, aren’t going into the void quietly, or without a fight.



Reviewed by: Russ Marshalek
Reviewed on: 2006-06-28
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