My father-in-law is a cool dude. He is Canadian, he was a Marine in Vietnam, he was a disc jockey in Detroit, he interviewed Zappa; the dude knows more about music than anybody I have ever talked to. And he raised my wife. In his garage, there is a vintage poster of the Beatles, a Zappa picture, and a weird poster showing the Periodic Table of Elements but with musicians and composers instead of elements. It was my wife’s chemistry project from high school. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
I have always been fascinated by the concept of art, philosophy, music, poetry, the Humanities if you will, of each generation being an answer or response to that which came before. This is a very broad generalization, but especially in the teaching of literature it became a model to organize information. The Enlightenment is in answer to the Renaissance. The Transcendentalists are the American response to the passive spectator quality of the Romantics. Surrealism pushed the boundaries of modern realism. You get the idea. A similar approach can be taken with music, but it much harder to define with such broad strokes.
It is really fun, for a music fan, to try to map out the history of music. Like a family tree of influence and creative spark. Or an organized Periodic table that makes sense of how each generation built on and changed and challenged what came before. However, much like a list of the “Top 100 Best Guitar Players” in Rolling Stone Magazine, as soon as it is published, people have something to say about how wrong it is. Music is intensely personal to people, and the way that we bring in and combine influences is something all artists do.
As a music writer, and a music lover, I must admit that I have a very odd relationship with time. Nothing feels old, and it takes Facebook to remind me of life’s little horrors: “On this day thirty years ago…..” and all of a sudden context happens, and my inner Peter Pan shadow strains those stitches, and inches further away. I am continually surprised when younger folks that I work with don’t know bands that I would consider absolute common knowledge. It’s almost like they think Post Malone discovered Ozzy. Then, one day… I had a startling realization. When I was in high school, as the 80s gave way to the 90s, I was closer to the Beatles than kids are now to Nirvana.
Nirvana is more classic rock to our kids NOW than the Beatles were for us. That is crazy.
I am asked one question more than any other when it comes to local music. “Who do they sound like?” And if there is one thing that seems to be very true in music right now, it that everything is about fusion. And fusion, breaks down the easy stereotypes of genre by blending multiple styles and influences. In many ways, this makes it harder than ever to not try to describe local bands by framing them as some derivative of what came before.
This is why I bring this up. In the late 70s, a band called Joy Division defined Post-Punk, and even though their time was short, they had a ripple effect through music that is absolutely undeniable. With the death of Ian Curtis, Joy Divison ceased, and became New Order. The first New Order album is haunted by Curtis, and feels very much like Joy Division, but the band quickly reformulates their sound, bringing in the 80s with dance pop rhythms over the bands somber introspective and socially critical lyrics. New Order maintains that formula for decades. Eventually, another band rises to the fore that seems to channel everything we loved about Joy Division: Interpol. Two superb movies detail this period of time: 24 Hour Party People and Control and show the effect Joy Division had on almost everything coming out of Post Punk UK.
Paper Foxes are to New Order as Interpol is to Joy Division.
That will answer that famous question that everybody asks. But does it do the band justice? If a person asked what my writing was like, and people say… he’s a modern day Edgar Allan Poe. Love it. If they say he’s Stephen King, paired with Alfred Hitchcock but splashed with The Twilight Zone. Sure, that is cool too. And it helps people get a sense of what I offer, but it does very little to accurately map the intricate set of influences, skills, subsets, knowledges, and life experiences that eventually combine and weave together to create a unique style.
As Paper Foxes are set to release their first full length album on the world, I found it interesting to use their 4 year career as a way of dissecting this concept of nostalgic fusion.
Paper Foxes is the brain child of front man CJ Jacobson. In fact, of the first Paper Foxes lineup, only CJ remains. The other two are better known now as members of Fairy Bones. And although CJ tells me that he has moved on from that early sound, and even wishes he could get Spotify to remove the tracks – I reminded him of Ministry’s first album With Sympathy. The one that is quintessentially different than everything else Uncle Al did. But I am still glad it is there, and we can experience it. You are welcome btw.
Paper Foxes released Love & Schizophrenia, a four song EP in 2015. Very much a guitar infused, garage rock sounding endeavor, I actually really like this EP. It is fun in every way rock music is supposed to be; dreaming big with a guitar and driving power chords. No, it is not the greatest recording to every drop out of Phoenix, but there are far worse. What I very much like about this recording though is how it showcases CJ’s vocal as fearless and willing to take risks. It also showcases his sense of vocal confidence, early on. The stand out single on the EP is Chopsticks & Merlot, and one that still finds its way onto setlists from time to time. Very soon after the records release however, CJ rebuilds the band by adding Patro Gaston on keys, and Jahlani and Uche Ujania on drums and bass specifically. Uche, also known as Mr. UU, also sings back up and lead vocals, which has given Paper Foxes a very unique sound and range in terms of vocal style. Marty was also in the band as the lead guitar.
Fresh with a new sound and line-up, Paper Foxes released a second EP, Strawberry Lashes in 2016. It leaps forward stylistically from the previous year’s endeavor. Patro’s sonic keys that lay down a foundation are evident in Nightmares, as is Mr. UU’s powerful vocal that provides a sharp contrast to CJ’s higher tenor. Indica Feels however is the song that leaps out as the earliest example of where the band intended to take us. Patro’s synthesizer is much more pronounced as is the near operatic quality of CJ’s strong voice. Also evident on this EP is the heavy use of guitar distortion and manipulation of the pedal board. Stylistically, this is a sound that has been moved over to Patro’s realm and the guitars are much cleaner on the new record. This evolution is also due to the final band line up, as Marty left the band for creative differences, and Oliver Lemke, of Soft Deadlines, was brought on to lead guitar.
Paper Foxes release their third EP Devil on my Shoulder in 2017. The most striking out take of this four song set is the addition of Mr. UU on lead vocals. Similar to the way Martin Gore harmonized with David Gahan of Depeche Mode on most songs, but took lead on a couple songs a record, Mr. UU sings lead on Breathing Underwater and Not Over Yet here.
But what really starts to set in after two years and fourteen songs is this idea of Nostalgic Fusion. Remember, New Order? Paper Foxes defines themselves as “dance-able guitar riffs, primitive disco-esque bass lines, digital keys, and vocal deliveries that would make David Byrne proud. The band pulls from a well of new wave, dark wave, 70s disco, and indie pop. Fans of Interpol, Joy Division and Bloc Party will have a field day with Paper Foxes.” CJ told me there is this term called “retro future” that is being thrown around, and he admits their most heavy influences are the post-punk revival bands (IE Interpol, Bloc Party, The Strokes, The Rapture) but when trying to market Pop Confessions, the single, folks in the industry immediately called out the use of Post-Punk by saying the band did not fit that classification because they did not sound like Joy Division.
2018 saw the band release two singles. Pop Confessions and Tell Me How You Feel. Paper Foxes now had 14 recorded songs, and was headed in to record their first full length album with Bob Hoag of Flying Blanket Recording.
The interesting thing about Post Punk as a movement in music is that it was so hard to define. It is most easily characterized as a “conceptual assault on rock conventions in favor of experimentation with production techniques and non-rock styles. It also relied heavily on creating a fusion of the arts, where postmodernist artwork, surrealism, and literature where being infused into lyrics” Nicholas Lezard Rip it Up and Start Again. This is very prominent with The Cure’s Killing an Arab, which is firmly rooted in Albert Camus’ The Stranger.
Perhaps, the reason that so many new bands are hard to label in terms of genre is because they are Post Punk, in the strictest form of the definition. They are bucking traditional labels, bringing together a wide range of influences and sounds, and fusing them into something new. It tickles our memory and makes us think golden thoughts of music almost forgotten… but it is seething with something undefinable, exciting and new.
This Nostalgic Fusion, is exactly what you are in store for with Popular Confessions!
Paper Foxes – Popular Confessions
Strawberry Lashes : Four singles from Paper Foxes early work make the cut to the first record, and this is the first of them. What is exciting about the reworked songs, is that it gives a decisive image of what Bob Hoag was able to bring to them. With this particular track however, the most striking change from the earlier 2016 single is the addition of Oliver on guitar. There is a much cleaner guitar lic that goes through the verses, and supplies a nice pop hook to the song. The backup vocals have also been turned down considerably, to say nothing of the full robust sound that has become a staple and an expectation from Flying Blanket recording. I listened to the original single and this one in 20 second increments, and the juxtaposition was striking. This recording is a full on sonic assault with complex layers of sound, that makes the original single sound tinny, and under-produced, in comparison.
Dance of the Dead : The first single released from Popular Confessions, this song showcases everything that I love about Paper Foxes. As I was messaging back and forth with the band, one of the things that jumps to mind here is what Mr. UU said about dancing. “We consider ourselves dance-rock which is pretty broad. I think what defines Paper Foxes is our dance-able music. All of our songs have a beat with a pulse and I make sure of it. I personally think a lot of bands have a problem with being too slow or too fast and complex. Not a lot of people like being in the middle and that’s where we fit in. I like to keep the audience dancing for the entire song.”
And now, hopefully, my long winded explanation of Joy Division, New Order and Post Punk come full circle. Have you ever danced to Interpol? Joy Division? Bauhaus? Ever see an old school goth dance party? It is like flailing squids and schizophrenic shadows playing with each other without looking like they are having too much fun.
Post Punk is largely defined as a five year era, 1979 – 1984. After that the art house rebellion… had become new wave. Bauhaus faded into Love & Rockets and Peter Murphy. Joy Division became New Order. Southern Death Cult became The Cult. And Killing an Arab…. was suddenly Love Cats. In other words…. goths learned to dance.
Breathing Underwater : The second track pulled from 2016’s Strawberry Lashes EP, this treatment is again, tighter, and more full. Mr. UU gives a stronger vocal, and as before the tinniness of the earlier production is completely replaced with a sonic wall of sound laid down on the keys from Patro.
Pop Confessions : The third track pulled forward for this album provides the pseudo title track. Once you get to hear this album, this particular track showcases Bob Hoag over at Flying Blanket. The vocal is more polished, and overdubbed with an echo. Also different from the other’s this song is actually lengthened a bit, expanded and that expanse is filled with that rich sound, smashing snares and a continual foundation of funk bass. Just look at the video! The boys are wearing pinks and whites in the bright Arizona sun, playing tennis, and singing about the Rapture. Put that in your Post Punk pipe and smoke it!
“Honestly, I don’t really know what makes us new or modern. We seem to be living in an era where “retro future” is popular and that phrase gets thrown around a lot. I guess if the argument of being Post Punk is sounding like Joy Division, then you have to say New Order isn’t post punk either. However I think the idea of angular guitars and overly theatrical vocals is basically the root of post punk. Maybe it’s new wave. Whatever the fuck it is, it’s music, and I wrote it, and sometimes people like it!” – CJ Jacobson.
How is that for a pop confession?
Not the Right Time : When I think of what CJ has built with Paper Foxes, I see a master of beats in Mr. UU, a rock guitar player with Oliver, and a man on the keys in Padro that rivals the sonic wonderwall of bands like Pink Floyd and The Cure. And then you have CJ’s poignant, often dark lyrics, but mixed together in this bright sunny dance-able exterior. Hmmmm…. almost like New Order getting us to dance on all over the body of a dead wife with Love Vigilantes. It is a fusion that brings to mind bands from the past that we remember fondly, but it blends it and bends it, almost like through a prism, and that refracted light is something altogether unique and new. This song, with it’s driving beat and dare-you-to-not dance vibe is exemplary of that fusion.
Devil on my Shoulder : I love this song. I love it so much I used it as inspiration for the first story in my new book, Ghost Songs. It is a book of short stories inspired by local music. And this song, for obvious reasons immediately took me to Goethe and Dr. Faustus. A happy, sunshine song…. about temptation and devilish sins. Again… look at the music video. It looks like Miami Vice…. but it is seething in darkness. Classic Paper Foxes. As with the other singles brought forward for this record, this version is absolutely fantastic. Pristine. Clean. Artsy, blendings against expectation…. that you can dance to. Perfect!
Get Off The Wall : Here the band brings on the funk. And it is something out of Solid Gold, it is tribal disco, it is George Clinton by way of the Euro invasion. Mr. UU sings lead, and CJ comes in to offer the chorus, and again the harmony these two voices create is truly a unique experience. It is, my friends, Nostalgic Fusion. And it creates an infinitely listenable album that is genuinely hard to not move to. And, in my humble opinion… this video needs to loot like Retro Future Shaft dancing in a graveyard. For the win.
Last Open Platform : This song, right there with Devil on my Shoulder, Dance with the Dead, and Pop Confessions, brings in the darkness. Heaven is empty, hell is full. Its a tough tough call between living large and living at all. But it sounds like Duran Duran. It chimes of Talking Heads. It purrs with a sense of OMD.
For me, in the final analysis, I would love to debate the music folks who told Paper Foxes that they were not Post Punk. I would argue, that person really had no idea what the movement was trying to do. Every artist I know today, myself included, is up against that wall of “Jesus, everything has been done… but I still have something in me that needs to get out. I still want to challenge the system that dictates the way that I can say it.” I see bands all the time pulling from the crooners, from the hey day of the 50s, from swing, from jazz, from punk rock and classic rock…. and they are fusing into something that resonates at a new frequency. They are inspiring artists like me, to fuse their songs into stories of my own.
This is Nostalgic Fusion. This is Paper Foxes.
Get Yourself to this Release Party on October 5th at the Rebel Lounge, and get ready to Dance Your Asses Off… oh, and….