Last week, I had the pleasure of talking with Dan Snyder of Paper Lights. Today, I am excited to share with you all a review of their latest release, We Are Arrows, out today on iTunes. For this review, I would like to do something different than my other reviews: a track-by-track breakdown with some comments at the end on the release as a whole unit.
“We Are” – a (mostly) instrumental opener to the album and the first half of the title song. It has a great build-up to “Arrows” and the release as a whole. This track doesn’t stand on its own, but it is nevertheless a critical component of the release. Atmospheric synthesizer leads to a more prominent and melodic usage of the instrument. Strings and resonating electric guitar provide a backing to the obscured vocals of the following track’s bridge.
“Arrows” – definitely the most radio-friendly track on the release. Nevertheless, Dan Snyder and Melanie Annabelle showcase their melodies in the verses, which lead to a medium-tempo, synth-lead chorus with a drum-machine beat. The song builds to the bridge, which repeatedly proclaims, “Let/love/heal your broken heart/Let/love/be who we are.” This message sticks with us for the rest of the song, ending with a resounding acapella finish. Great stuff.
“Kadikoy” – named after the former Turkish home of bassist/engineer Tim Friesen, this brief instrumental track may be my favorite on the record, even though it clocks in about a minute-and-a-half. Vocal chops reminiscent of Panda Bear punctuate the song, backed by thundering drums. The track has an epic feel, which really sets the mood for…
“Never Let You Go” – …which I for some reason didn’t really like as a single. But now, at its home in the release, I can see it as it truly is: an awesome (in the original and undiluted sense of the word), inspiring post-rock anthem for the ages. Listening to it on its own made it seem a little pretentious, I would say. But in the flow of the unit, it acts as the release’s dramatic climax. Dan leads most of this track with his soothing vocals. The lyrics are beautiful, and the video for the song is very well produced. I like how the video portrays this shimmering relationship of light and dark, while the song lyrically portrays a struggle between hope and despair. Watch it below.
“Astoria” – the release’s weakest track. The ambient electronic interlude is good, but not as great as the others. Think Daft Punk’s score for the TRON remake and you have a pretty good idea of what this song sounds like. Nevertheless, it refuses to act as mere filler, though it may not be as enjoyable a listen on its own as the other tracks.
“Berlin” – the other single off the release. This song carries a hopeful attitude, and I particularly like the distorted guitars that weave throughout the mix. Glockenspiel makes a prominent appearance, along with other clattering percussion. Synthesizer is again used to create atmosphere. The vocals and lyrics are, as usual, amazing. This track has a bit of an Icelandic feel to it, not unlike Paper Lights’ previous EP, Caverns.
“Simple” – winding down the album with more vocal chops and synths. This track ends the album on a resolved note, and it leaves us with the message to slow down in our lives and enjoy what’s around us. The music is more restrained than the rest of the release, which releases the listener with a sense of calm. The calm may bore some listeners, but the song definitely finds a welcome place in your heart after a few listens.
On We Are Arrows, Paper Lights lean more towards the indie-pop side of the musical spectrum than their previous release Caverns, which is definitely post-rock (though with a slight folk influence). In their latest release, Paper Lights has created something of a “post-dreampop,” with atmospheric synthesizers and some crunching, distorted guitars as well. But Paper Lights always comes off more polished than abrasive. Their well-finished sheen, however, does not compromise their lyricism or musicianship. Each track on the release has its proper place, and they all function together as a unit.
My only complaints are that sometimes the tracks can be bland when left on their own and the release could have been longer. But the length is a petty issue, and even some of my favorite albums of all time have interlude songs that I don’t listen to on their own (a prime example: Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83). Every track is meticulously planned and put in its perfect position. We Are Arrows could be likened to a short story. While on its own, a passage from a short story may be lackluster; however, the story might collapse without it. In the same way, if even one track was ejected from the release, it would be an incomplete experience and not as enjoyable.
In summary, We Are Arrows is a delicately structured masterpiece and certainly the best that Paper Lights has put out thus far. I look forward to hearing more from them, and this release certainly is a contender – albeit an early one – for a top spot in this year’s top albums/EP’s list.
Check out Paper Lights at the following links.