My my, it was only a few weeks ago that I had sung the praises of Rio en Medio, a baroque folk singer/songwriter and new signing to Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic’s Gnomonsong label. Well, here I am, again, finding myself enchanted by yet another Gnomonsong artist, Papercuts, the project of Bay Area performer Jason Quever. Quever has collaborated with Cabic’s Vetiver in the past, and Cabic, himself, contributes backing vocals on a pair of tracks on Can’t Go Back, Quever’s third full-length. So it should come as no surprise that the two have quite a few melodic similarities in their songwriting approaches, both veering away from any implied `freak folk’ tags and instead opting for a reverb-heavy, classic folk-pop sound. But while Cabic may sometimes opt for longer, more gradually building arrangements, Quever specializes in more concise, more tightly constructed songs, adding up to an album that sounds like a great, lost classic pop album unearthed for the first time in decades.
The songs on Can’t Go Back have a nostalgic quality about them, no doubt reinforced by the ever-present vocal reverb, the buzzing of steel guitar strings and the occasional barroom piano or organ. It’s not so much that they sound exactly like one particular artist, but there are hints of the past here and there, each song like a sepia-toned photograph or a story passed down from generations past. Even in digital form, these 10 songs sound like the crackling vinyl and good vibrations of ’60s Pacific Coast Highway and ’70s Laurel Canyon.
Quever has a knack for writing brief, yet beautiful songs, which becomes immediately clear within the first few seconds of opening track “Dear Employee.” Buzzing organ and gentle plucks of acoustic guitar combine in a densely gorgeous haze of stunning melody, the pure joyousness of which almost distracts from the more downcast lyrics, Quever singing as if from a broken office relationship, “Pick up your check and go, you’re just my employee now/ I don’t need you no more.” The dramatic, Southwestern-tinged “John Brown” has more of a Lee Hazlewood influence to it, the lyrics telling of a mythical sort of character: “there’s a man over yonder, he’s as mad as the devil/ over what’s become of this land.” The melancholy “Summer Long” is a dreamier, bittersweet affair, piano and bass drum filling up every spare inch of sonic space, Quever’s own understated voice somehow rising above the powerful mass of sound.
“Unavailable” contends strongly with “Dear Employee” for the album’s best track, a simple but graceful `I’m-better-than-he-is’ love song. Quever plucks gorgeous and mighty catchy riffs on his acoustic guitar, creating the kind of classic sound that Wes Anderson most likely couldn’t (and shouldn’t) resist using in one of his films. Lyrically, the song carries a bit of cynicism, humorously painting a girl’s wealthy boyfriend as an aloof and unfeeling jerk: “hey little girl where’s your man/ he’s always just out of reach/and didn’t his assistant say I’m sorry but who are you/he’s stepping out for a while/he’s unavailable to you now.”
Quever channels Blonde on Blonde era Dylan on the fun, bouncy “Take the 227th Exit,” with its plinks of piano and vintage guitar fuzz. Meanwhile, “Outside Looking In” continues with a Dylanesque sound, though a slower and more laid back one. The most unusual track on Can’t Go Back is “Found Bird,” a lengthy and ornate progressive piano ballad that veers into some noodly realms, but maintains a sparkling and pretty sound overall.
Aside from “Found Bird,” there’s nothing overtly complex or pretentious about Can’t Go Back. There doesn’t have to be. With just a few carefully placed organs, an elegant touch of fingerpicked guitar, and a few nods to the ’60s, Jason Quever has constructed an album that not only sounds like a lost classic, but is sure to be viewed as such in the future.
Vetiver – To Find Me Gone
Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra – Nancy & Lee
Beach House – Beach House
MP3: “John Brown”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.