by Payton Davis
Nashville as the focal point of an alien invasion.
Black Sabbath playing in a zany house of mirrors.
Pink Floyd giving a shock performance at the apex of some country music award show.
These are the scenes that cement in my mind when listening to Chew, the fourth album by The Paperhead – a record drawn from clashing influences and a brave meshing of genres. Spurts of six-string mastery and spots of jazzy goodness throughout also make Chew a successful album of risk and experimentation.
Over the 13 tracks, the Nashville trio’s embrace of those clashes and meshes creates conflicting, but believable, feelings. Opener, ‘The True Poet’, kicks off with a slew of strums, string bends and riffs before the narrator delves into his ambition to deliver facts to the world through his art over a punchy, upbeat instrumental. Later, the subject moans, “All I’ve ever wanted was the truth,” though, and the first stretch of jazz motifs adds to the drear the narrator faces.
Soon, the audience knows the gravity of the narrator’s goal. ‘Pig,’ ‘Over and Over’ and ‘Dama de Levanda’, also all capitalize off a mash of genres sans jumble – including country.
Country qualities in ‘Over and Over’ include a layer of psychedelic buzz, and a slide guitar solo, underscoring a commitment to incorporate traces of genres – but this isn’t merely to pander to genre fans, like a rocker in a cowboy hat with no knowledge of Hank Williams. The Paperhead excel with this tactic throughout as far as jazz is concerned too, sometimes combining the two on tracks like ‘Pig’ – a backdrop of banjo and sizzling guitar notes, a la Frank Zappa.
However, the time-trancending ’60s psychedelic on ‘Dama de Levanda’ captures the project at both its most inventive and reflective. It’s seven tracks in, and instrumental traits pop up, with brash horns and roaming bass becoming more prominent.
The six tracks post-‘Dama de Levanda’ aren’t as memorable but make for fun listens. They’re laced with motifs reminiscent of The Yardbirds, The Beatles’ Ringo Starr-fronted tunes (‘Porter’s Fiddle’), and even The Clash. Song 10, ‘Reincarnated’, tackles pop culture and today’s issues galore, with loony breaks after the verses; ‘Little Lou’s’ guitar riffs match in time with the lyrics, building on the sonic, simplistic instrumental. By these closing tracks, The Paperhead don’t set the scene for quite as outlandish scenarios as before — but they give listeners time to process the jazz-washed, Western-shaded standouts that make Chew’s start so delectable.
Chew is out now via Trouble in Mind.