One of my favorite releases of 2012 was the AAVVAV EP by Finnish act Paperfangs. It was a strong debut featuring six catchy synthpop tracks. I listened to that EP a lot, and when Paperfangs released their debut LP in February, i snapped up a copy.
The good news is that the LP takes the general thing that they were doing on the EP and stretches it out, allowing a little room for more experimentation within the narrow defines of their music. The bad news is that if you did not like the EP, you will not like the LP. Paperfangs are just continuing to do what they do.
They start the record off with In Age, a happy little song that meanders with simple keyboard melodies and a mid-tempo hand-clapped beat. This song is perfectly within the small musical space that Paperfangs have mapped out for themselves on their debut EP.
Bathe in Glory is odd in that vocalist Juri seems not quite himself here. That is, i am suddenly very aware that English is not his first language. Why is his accent more pronounced on this one song? Odd. At any rate, the music is a deep synth soaring, a warbling bass beat, and some electro drums, which all goes well with his exaggeratedly accented singing.
Paperfangs bring in a nice horn line on Selfless. When combined with Juri's bored vocals and the soaring synths, the effect reminds me of the early work of The Ocean Blue. That is a nice effect. They continue the horns in This Power, a tune which really swings. It has a sauntering rhythm, made up of staccato piano and frantic drum machine. The tune hits a real high point with a chorus chanting in the background. Excellent work.
Paperfangs start the next tune, Repeat with an old movie sample of children talking about baseball. Do they play baseball in Finland, or did they just think it was a neat sample? The song moves along nicely with droning keyboards and little tinkling sounds, and then, at one minute fifty seconds, it pops. The drone kind of fades out slowly, then an insistent tapped beat comes in accompanied by huge booming drums and reverbing keys as Juri reassures you will "Live a good life stuck on repeat". It is a transcendent moment, a moment of clarity, like the clouds parting in a dark sky. It seems to provide a context for what Paperfangs are doing. They are just a little pop band that wants people to dance. That's it folks, and yet, when they put it that way, it's the most important thing in the universe. I guess it helps that they have some nicely funky beats to dance to.
After that, they take things in a different direction on Darkling, I Listen with chugging rhythms and synth strings that swell and grow as the song progresses. The strings fade out, and a deep warbling bass synth line comes in on Widow's Song. It is joined by a shaky egg (yay! shaky egg!) and the song moves along happily, dancing on repeat.
Avenue of Splendours is a little different for them, with a nice chiming guitar riff and a hip-hop drum loop chugging. It moves along really well though. The rhythm is great on All Girls Are Grey as well. The beats here are almost tribal in a post-High Places kind of way. But the synths are very old school, the band channeling New Order and/or Men Without Hats. And ... is that Tarleena adding some backing vocals? I think this is the first song with a voice that is not Juri or a sample. Huh. She does a fine job with it.
Finally they wrap up their debut LP with His Famous Last Painting a song built around a sample of an old movie, scratchy and softly focused in the background, some old actress spilling her guts to an actor whose reply we never hear. That kind of thing always reminds me of Young American Primitive. Paperfangs though, have built their slowest, most lethargic tune around the sample, piano and drums cascading in slow rumbles behind Juri's narration and the sample.
Overall, i would say that Past Perfect delivers on the promise of the debut EP. This is catchy electropop that is complex and has a lot going on, but never seems dense or busy. And i have to admit that i like Juri's disaffected vocal style, which really takes me back to the europop of the 1980s. However, there is an upbeat joy at the heart of Paperfangs tunes -- the beats, the rhythms, and the pace are all just happy. It makes me want to dance along, and i think that is their intention after all.