BY JOHN SCHACHT
Now six LPs in, Papercuts — a.k.a., singer/songwriter/arranger Jason Quever —has been an outlier in the new-century San Francisco scene. Eschewing the gritty garage punk of Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees as steadily as he’s steered clear of the more bombastic psychedelia of Wooden Shjips or Sleepy City, Quever’s put pop craft at the top of his checklist since debuting with 2000’s Rejoicing Songs.
But by those early lo-fi standards, the songs on Life Among the Savages are Quever’s most ambitious set yet. Two years in the making, the follow-up to Papercuts’ 2011 Sup Pop debut, Fading Parade, focuses even more on that LP’s dreamy baroque pop elements blended with lustrous textures, locating somewhere between Phil Spector’s pocket symphonies and the reverb glaze of shoegaze.
Savages actually works best, though, when those elements are dialed back a bit, as the line between just enough and too much is a thin one. Most of that stems from Quever’s ethereal voice, an airy element that almost vanishes in richer textures. On “Still Knocking at the Door,” for instance, staccato strings and piano highlight the marching tempo while Quever’s vocals float pleasantly above the cushioned percussion and acoustic guitar strums; on the title track, though, the textures — additionally arranged by frequent collaborator Alex Scally of Beach House—tilt bombastic, and quickly crowd out Quever’s paper-thin voice after the first verse.
Mostly, though, the combinations succeed in getting across the Papercuts’ late-afternoon melancholy pop. The deliberate tempos and glistening textures of “Staring Into the Bright Lights” and “Easter Morning” recall Souvlaki –era Slowdive, and the indigo atmospheres suit Quever’s vocals and alienation narratives to a tee. “Family Portrait” and “Afterlife Blues” share an insistent, pulsing Galaxie 500 feel —Quever helped produce Dean Wareham’s 2013 EP, Emancipated Hearts —but do so while maintaining a pleasant shambolic quality.
Papercuts LPs have never been about generating heat, though the lack thereof does make one wish for the occasional contrast of more up-tempo material. But Quever’s songs are meant to provide sweet succor, not catharsis, and in that Life Among the Savages proves to be pretty good company.
DOWNLOAD: “Tourist,” “Staring Into the Bright Lights,” “Family Portrait”