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When Paper Tigers took the stage at Massachusetts’ In Between Days music festival last month, a simple message was displayed on a flag for all to see: “These are the good old days.” It was a bold declaration, and one that anyone who was alive for the past few years might be quick to dispute. But much like the Boston alt-indie band’s music, what is presented on the surface and what is delivered underneath are two completely separate entities.
That duality is amplified on Charmer, Paper Tigers’ explosive and acerbic debut album that The Big Takeover is exclusively premiering today, ahead of tomorrow’s official release date. Charmer roars across 10 adrenalized guitar-rock songs – led by summer singles “Wedding Cake,” “Into That Good Night,” and the title track – that undermine the album’s comfortable title.
Charmer is a rock record with a pop polish, and a pop record with rock edge; the more the listener peels back each lyrical and sonic layer, tying together the band’s disparate sound that incorporate post-punk, grunge, Britpop, and American indie, the more reality’s grim nature starts to come into view.
And that’s understandable for the dynamic band, which formed in the Boston neighborhood of Allston in 2019 and quickly weathered a global pandemic, a venue crisis in their home city, a growing national hostility to the arts and those who create it, and collective whirlwind of insanity that seems to mark each day. Charmer, and all its furious ambition, is the ultimate release for Paper Tigers, a burning exhale that follows a string of four EPs and several singles.
“We’re proud of this album,” declares Paper Tigers. “With each release, we pushed ourselves both in terms of songwriting and production and this was the culmination of everything we learned about both. It represents the very best we’re capable of and we wouldn’t change a thing about it. With every song we write or piece of art we create, we just hope it connects with our audience in some special way. This LP represents our most thought-out and effortful body of work to-date. We’re hoping it elevates our fan’s perspective of the band and that they’re drawn back to it, many times.”
Repeated listens is where the elements begin to shine: The razor-sharp guitarwork and production of Bjarki Guðmundsson; the heavy, absorbing basslines of Matthew Hughes; the thunderous drums and atmospheric percussion of Ben “Cutty” Cuthbert; and the sardonic vocals of Michael Medlock, a man with a street preacher urgency hellbent on warning the world both of the dangers within and an optimistic way out.
From heralding the age of revolution and its dissemination through media (“Pariah”) to ‘90s grunge-era conspiracy theories (“Soft Focus”), Charmer is a lyrically confrontational album as Medlock registers and relays the world around him. As he sings in the swirling, paranoid album track “The Drugs Are Kicking In”: “Modern living made life easy / But it also made us angrier.”
“The lyrics on Charmer are both anecdotal and narrative,” the band admits. “Sometimes Michael is singing from his own perspective and other times he’s writing fiction. His lyrics orbit around love, loss, personal life experiences and his hopes for the future.”
The storylines that emerge through the calculated noise are plentiful, and remain open to listener interpretation. But one aspect of Charmer that was made clear from the start was the ability to convey these songs in a precise and crystalline manner, made possible in part by work done at both Paper Tigers’ home studio at Cataclysmic Records in Brighton, and with recording engineer Alex Allinson at The Bridge Sound and Stage just across the Charles River in Cambridge.
“In the past, we’ve tried to do as much as we can by ourselves,” says Paper Tigers. “There was a time when we saw it as a way to speed up the learning curve of being a band. It would have been fun to go into a proper recording studio for the first EPs, but we needed to do all that homework and run into all the obstacles to progress as a band and songwriters. We met up with Alex at The Bridge and pitched the idea of tracking live versions of the songs in the studio, to capture drums. We ended up getting so much more than drums during that one-day session, thanks to Alex. He went above and beyond, made us feel comfortable, and was able to dial in the perfect sound in a matter of seconds. Having those great-sounding tracks from Alex made the process so much easier, and because of that, we could allocate more of our time to the creative side of production than before.”
Embrace Paper Tigers’ Charmer below.
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