Paper Beat Scissors – S/T

Review by Andrew Patterson

Whether swelling swiftly into a glorious full-band crescendo or receding into confessional quietude, the songs of Tim Crabtree feel pure and punctual. Though this record is certainly eclectic and features a myriad of session players, the tastefulness with which it is arranged, recorded and complied as a whole furthers Crabtree’s reputation as a deeply thoughtful and patient artist. Aside from a home-recorded EP, 2009’s understated and insular Flicker, this is the first major output from a project that began nearly eight years ago.

Compared to that promising debut, which felt more like a tiny page torn from a larger notebook, Paper Beat Scissors is fully-realized; more like a beautifully choreographed stage production. Imagine, if you will, a Busby Berkeley production where glitz and ritz are replaced by earnest, pastoral imagery; a story told with such meticulous geometry and clever pacing that it’s masterful production has left the emotional content untarnished, allows the strings of the heart to be tugged at with a natural sympathy. The setting for this piece would have to be rustic: within the dark, spring green walls of a family’s handed-down farmhouse, or out amidst the dried-beige hay fields that surround it, unseen from the highway…

The story begins in media res (‘Ends In Themselves’): the curtain peels away to sound of guitars flickering and mechanical sounds creaking. The vocals build bravado, sing of growing wings and gaining equilibrium. Slowly, the band creeps in and the audience is reassured by whispered vocal undertones and warm bass swells. Our hero is revealed to be of good, upstanding nature. However, silhouetted in the distance or harnessed from the creaking ceiling, a french horn sounds off subtly, looms uncomfortably. There is a knot at the centre of the plot, buried deeply within the protagonists past. Our hero is sent in search of understanding.

After traipsing through the maudlin woods (‘Folds’) and combing the cathartic caverns of the mountainside where his voice doubles back upon itself (‘Forgotten’), our humble protagonist finds reassurance by the lakeside. In the serenity of an open field, seeing his distorted reflection on the water’s surface, he regains composure. He recognizes in himself all the former selves come and gone, all the wincing turned to wrinkles. He is humbled by his own experiences. The wind of the french horn finally blowing at his back, he feels weightless, feels the steady drumming in his pulse (‘Once’).

With clear purpose glinting in his eyes, he takes a rollicking pace across the field heading homeward (‘Be Patient’). Composing his thoughts, he looks to the budding trees, their leaves nearly present. He looks to his feet and kicks the dirt off his heels. With a long, hard-earned winter behind him and the scents from the earth rising, our hero feels in-step with his surroundings once again. Crossing the front yard, a flock of birds bursts from the tall grass in the distance, he smells the scents emanating from the crackling woodstove indoors. He feels the infinity of nature spinning around him (‘Keening’).

With a newfound clarity, the story begins to fold gently back together. It sews itself shut, collects ideas and propels them off the stage and deep into the thoughts of it’s audience (‘Watch Me Go’). As opposed to it’s nuanced beginning, it closes quietly, calmly and without loose ends. Our hero, now solitary, lays his head gently to rest (‘Let Me In’).