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The Paper Kites are quiet achievers. Having been working the touring circuit in their native Melbourne for the last few years and dropping two EPs, Woodland and Young North, they’ve slowly but surely built up a fan base and garnered attention for their folk-inspired indie tunes. And with their debut long play States, produced by ARIA Award-winner Wayne Connolly, the quintet have made the gutsy move to go deeper into the shadows than they have on their previous releases, experimenting with sounds, incorporating unusual instruments and taking us on a darkly introspective journey.
As States opens, with the harmony-laden Malleable Beings, it quickly becomes evident that The Paper Kites are masters of the slow build. It’s a delicate yet intricately layered track, creating an enormous sound while retaining its fragility. It segues into first single St Clarity, which is all a bit Bon Iver but with a distinctly Australian twist. There’s a charming hint of an Australian accent in frontman Sam Bentley‘s vocals which, when teamed with the Southern twang of a banjo, creates something quite special.
Third track Living Colour invokes a rich strings section and sees lead vocal duties taken over by guitarist and co-vocalist Christina Lacy, adding an almost trip hop element to what’s essentially a folk song. Living Colour also exhibits a States-wide trend, with some rather random instruments that pop up in places. Other tracks showcase a flurry of strings on what you thought was a guitary rock song, or a music-box, brass section or a banjo when you least expected it. But there’s no doubt that each musical choice is perfectly, meticulously made. The Paper Kites know when to pick up the pace, when to add or subtract a layer, and when to slow it back down again, and the result is an effortlessly complex album that you’ll have difficulty believing is a debut.
From the twang of Gates to the ballsy, bluesy rock of Lesson From Mr Gray, there’s a distinct sound to each track and yet a cohesive, unified feel that encompasses the album. By the time the band strip it back and slow it down again with Tin Lover, you’ve relinquished all control and happily submitted to the 5-piece taking you wherever they want to go.
Lacy takes over lead vocal duties once again on the moody Cold Kind Hand, with the sweetness of her voice providing a nice juxtaposition to Bentley’s drawl. And when you think there’s nowhere new this album could possibly go, the Melburnians get all Simon and Garfunkel on the folksy Never Heard A Sound, even busting out a harmonica solo.
Clocking in at just under an hour, States is almost tiring with just how much it manages to accomplish. By the time you’ve reached the dramatic build and the slow release of closer I Done You So Wrong, it’s a little like coming back to reality after an epic daydream. These are rich, luscious tunes almost too big for being pigeonholed into a genre. States cements all the musical ideas that The Paper Kites have been slowly revealing, while still delivering a surprising and complex debut. This band are no longer ones to watch – they’ve well and truly arrived.