Fragility, Nuance, & Grace: A Review of Paper Beat Scissors’ Dazzling ‘Parallel Line’

Paper Beat Scissors © Stacy Lee
Paper Beat Scissors © Stacy Lee
Montreal singer/songwriter Paper Beat Scissors weaves a breathtakingly delicate fabric throughout ‘Parallel Line,’ an album that radiates with fragility, nuance, and humbling grace.
for fans of Blind Pilot, Iron & Wine, Bear’s Den
Stream: ‘Parallel Line’ – Paper Beat Scissors

There’s a deceptive, unassuming character about Paper Beat Scissors’ new album. Illustrated by a lone horizontal orange line next to the artist’s name, Parallel Line seems from the outset to be a harmless acoustic affair. The one-minute introduction “Respire” finds the singer/songwriter playing with light woodwinds and strings, peppering subtle instrumental garnishes atop his guitar.

Then the song “Gun Shy” hits, and it becomes immediately clear that Paper Beat Scissors is an artist we should all be far more aware of. The orchestral folk singer/songwriter weaves a breathtakingly delicate fabric throughout Parallel Line, an album that radiates with fragility, nuance, and humbling grace. Released Released September 13, 2019 via Forward Music Group, Parallel Line is an album for all lovers of modern folk, a record for fans of Blind Pilot and Iron & Wine, as well as Atwood favorites like Aquilo, Mappe Of, and Bear’s Den!

Parallel Line - Paper Beat Scissors
Parallel Line – Paper Beat Scissors

Indeed, “Gun Shy” truly is a stunning affair. Light and lilting, yet harrowingly deep and emotionally dense (a term we may very well use to describe most tracks on this record), the song finds Paper Beat Scissors melting his sweet falsetto over an increasingly full scenic landscape that begins with just guitar, and ends in a lush myriad of sound.

“I got obsessed with this song while I was writing it – there’s something really hypnotic about singing it, and I noticed when I played it live that the audience always really seemed to sink in and connect to it, too,” the artist tells Atwood Magazine. “It went through a bunch of iterations before it landed on this form, and for the longest time it was gonna be this drum machine, pitch-shifted electric guitar drone-piece (maybe one day that version will emerge, too). It’s a very personal feeling song, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it’s about – certainly a sense of being just outside, being isolated, and the damage that can be done from that separation, but the more I think about it, the more I feel it’s about being disconnected from yourself.”

The musical moniker for England-born, Montreal-based musician Tim Crabtree, Paper Beat Scissors first emerged nearly a decade ago with the album Flicker; Crabtree has been pursuing music in one form or another ever since. Parallel Line is the artist’s follow-up to 2015’s Go On, and finds him in building upon many of the techniques implemented on that record, while pursuing a more minimalist approach to song construction.

Paper Beat Scissors © Alex Pearson - Kyle Cunjak
Paper Beat Scissors © Alex Pearson – Kyle Cunjak

In our premiere of the album’s standout “pop” song (and lead single) “Don’t Mind” earlier this spring, Atwood Magazine wrote, “With an eye for clever lyrics, an ear for catchy sounds, and one of the best artist names out there today, Paper Beat Scissors is an easy fan favorite once you get to know him,” further describing the song itself as a catchy tender, and upbeat piece soaring “with warm folk-pop and a tongue-in-cheek smile at hypocrisy and privilege.” The record’s brightest moment falls early on in its 39-minute run, injecting a fierce energy that will only rear its head again toward the album’s close, on a frenzied rush of a song entitled, “Better.”

Getting there requires traversing a litany of gorgeously-sculpted electric and acoustic delights, including record highlight’s (and two of the artist’s favorites), “All It Was” and “Shapes.

“For me [All It Was] is about coming out the other side after being really blindly caught up in something you’d given over a huge sense of importance to,” Paper Beat Scissors explains. “That sense of just emerging out of the fog of something you thought was huge and significant, but then, kind of, the curtain gets pulled back on the Wizard of Oz and there’s just this ordinary man there. There’s a sense of disillusionment there in the song, but also a sense of relief, of re-finding the ground.”

Whereas “All It Was” sinks into a lullaby-like easy listening gorge, “Shapes” features a sweetly entrancing mesh of French horn (Pietro Amato – Patrick Watson, Land of Talk), “washes of pedal steel,” (Mike Feuerstack – Bell Orchestre, the Luyas) and harmonized vocals that tickle the inner ear. “Eventually the steam builds and the song breaks open towards its climax, the counter-rhythms of the piano and the waves of horns taking centre stage, the pedal steel turned aggressive and a crescendo of drums fills to bursting,” Crabtree explains. “‘I want it all. I want none.’ But when we emerge to the quiet of the other side there’s no resolution, no catharsis, the character is stuck where he started.”

Per the artist, the song “is about wavering back and forth between accepting and denying the breakdown of a relationship. It’s about the emotional contortions that we pull ourselves through but lay at the doorstep of others. For me, the central character in the song is misguided in putting the blame for the emotional strife he’s going through at the feet of someone else.”

Within each of these songs lies a genuinely thought-through message; whether it be on relationships or existence, transience, uncertainty, or simply moving forward in life, Parallel Line challenges listeners to dive into the deep end of rumination. One such moment of incredible beauty is the song “Grace,” which rises and falls with a transcendent finger-picked acoustic guitar pattern alongside a pair of moving violins. Atop this incredible sound, the artist sings of adoration for another – possibly a parent; possibly a lover – with as much appreciation and affection as one can channel into song.

Concluding with the bells, drones, and full tones of “Little Sun,” Parallel Line ends on quite a high note compared to where it began. It may not seem like much with its plain white cover and geometric title, but even a passing listen to this album showcases the immense depth, care, and love given to its eleven tracks. Paper Beat Scissors has delivered a masterful orchestral folk soundtrack to light the fire in the coming cold months; this is the kind of music to keep you warm on a cold night, or keep you company when there’s no one else around.

Parallel Line - Paper Beat Scissors

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? © Alex Pearson - Kyle Cunjak

Paper Beat Scissors Charms with Radiant & Sly “Don’t Mind”


:: Paper Beat Scissors ::

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