Are These The Questions That We Need To Ask?


Misra Records, 2017

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


The title Are These The Questions That We Need To Ask? certainly justifies the music on this sophomore effort by Washington, D.C based Paperhaus, which gets the contemplative juices flowing in the listener. This synth-rock record is spacey and psychedelic, with influences of vintage progressive rock running deep through it. Needless to say, there is a certain cerebral quality to this album, which consists of challenging music compositions that can only be understood by serious connoisseurs who have the ear and the patience to appreciate what’s not ordinary or familiar.

There are very few – if any – instantly appealing moments here. This is certainly the kind of record that demands the listener’s patience and time. Even one of its best cuts, opening title “Told You What To Say,” isn’t super likeable the very first time you hear it. This track has a big sound, in a kind of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 OK Computer-era Radiohead way. It has an inescapable desolate feeling looming over it, and the menacing bass and thumping drums along with the unsettlingly dehumanized synths certainly make this song dystopian. The only humanizing aspect is frontman Alex Tebeleff’s vocals, which offer a faint glimmer of hope.

“Nanana,” which is probably as catchy as Are These The Questions… gets, is a lighter version of “Told You What To Say.” Though it still has a somewhat grim vibe, this number also features a jaunty Britpop rhythm that is in fact danceable. “Serentine,” another highlight, is mischievous, with goofy synthesizers, deadpan singing that sometimes wants to fit more words than there is space, and guitars that are melodious and edgy at the same time. On “Needle Song,” however, the playfulness doesn’t work that well, and it ends up feeling sloppy because of the flimsy production work and goofy synthesizer sounds that hover throughout it like an annoying insect.

The closing title “Bismillah” is where the band pushes their song arrangement abilities the farthest. Like the name, which is the first word in the Quran; the track begins with loud and austere droning synthesizers, sounding as if a prayer is about to follow, and it sort of does. The ensuing combination of soft vocals and angelic aura created by the minimal guitars and synthesizers, although not prayer-like, nevertheless has a calming meditative feel. This is just the beginning of this six-and-half minute number, which then dives into a long and rousing instrumental jam, with thunderous guitars and drums that last for well over half of its duration.

Paperhaus’ willingness to push their artistry on this occasion, and on the rest of this disc, is one of their strengths. However, the lack of solid production creeps up every now and then, making the album sound anemic overall, which can be kind of disappointing in comparison with the musical vision that the group is trying to achieve here.

Rating: B

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