Slicing the '60s

Papercuts' bittersweet California pop

It's hard to hear the '60s-influenced, lo-fi indie pop of San Francisco's Papercuts and not want to wrap yourself up in their blanket of melancholic musical introspection. It's something Jason Quever's mournfully emotional songwriting cries out for. But to Quever, the music isn't such a downer. "People seem to react that way," he says, "but I really think of it as upbeat and happy, at least in places."

A listen to Papercuts' resplendently somber new album, Can't Go Back (out on Gnomonsong March 6), is proof that sometimes it feels good to feel bad. But like a four track-recording Brian Wilson, his catchy vocal melodies and whip-smart arrangements make these self-produced songs shine warmly. "I recorded it at my house in the Excelsior," he says. "It's all 2-inch tape, analog, and old stuff." Helped out by Vetiver's Andy Cabic (who runs the Gnomonsong label with Devendra Banhart) and bandmates David Enos, Matt Stromberg, and Alex deLanda, Can't Go Back is intimate and immediately engaging, thanks to Quever's analog obsession. "When you see tape rolling, it's exciting, and it's really easy to make it sound good," he says. "I don't like to spend too long getting sounds."

Songs like the Dylan-esque "Take the 227th Exit," its melody line sort of an updated "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35," recall the moment when folk went electric and divided the purists. "It's not intentionally nostalgic ... just the way I like to record," Quever explains. The excellent opening track, "Dear Employee," conjures scenarios of failed relationships, as drums and bass softly thud under a driving cello line: "You're just my employee now, I don't need you," Quever sings. But the songwriter maintains that this record was more storytelling than autobiography: "None of the songs are about me," he says. "I wanted to get away from random stream of consciousness, and write from specific points of view that I could relate to in some way, closer to narratives, what it feels like to be someone at some specific time or event." His writing process is not that of the emotionally tortured artist, although he can't always pinpoint what drives him. "Maybe I was mad about something, I can't remember," he says. "I'm usually happy when writing though, so I don't know what my problem is."

Papercuts are embarking on a high-profile tour with Brooklyn's Grizzly Bear, who Quever met at a show at the Independent. Though his local musical roots run deep, having collaborated with bands like Vetiver and Skygreen Leopards, he's also worked with like-minded out-of-town friends including Cass McCombs and Casiotone for the Painfully alone. "I'd love to do something with Cass again," he contemplates, "but he's in a better place now [Los Angeles]. I am recording Flying Canyon at the studio, the awesome project from Skygreen Leopards' people Glenn and Shayde and Cayce, which I like a lot." [Sadly, Flying Canyon member and filmmaker Cayce Lindner took his own life on Tuesday, Feb. 6, an unfortunate loss for his friends, family, and the Bay Area music community.

This Bay Area communion of friendship and music suits Jason Quever just fine, as Papercuts continue to thrive in the underbelly of the indie scene. Though perhaps now poised for bigger and better things, he's not about to leave his hometown. "I love San Francisco. I've moved away a couple times and came running back," he says, before extolling the virtues of our regional musicians. "There are lots of bands I like: Vetiver, Skygreen Leopards, Gris Gris, Kelley Stoltz, Alex deLanda, the Finches." Quever is inspired by the simple pleasures as well. "I like the weather, and so many good-looking people around." Whatever the impetus for Papercuts' artistry, the nostalgically dreamy Can't Go Back is a satisfying result, and another welcome addition to San Francisco's indie soundscape.

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