Papermoons sound bigger than their two members on their sophomore album


Generally speaking, three is a more stable number than two. It’s easier to balance a tricycle than a bicycle. Tripods are much more common than bi-pods. Having three participants in a vote will always (barring abstention) avoid a stalemate. Why is it then that so many two piece bands seem to function so well? You’d think that having only two points of view would ultimately end up with both parties at odds and yet, it seems there are an ever growing number of successful two piece outfits these days. I suppose like any relationship however, despite its ups and downs, when it works…it works. When it comes to Matt Clark and Daniel Hawkins of Papermoons, it definitely works.

While it’s been four years since the release of their debut full-length New Tales, Matt Clark and Daniel Hawkins haven’t just been resting on their laurels. Aside from the typical milestones of marriage, moving, and finishing school, both Clark and Hawkins have been busy with other Austin bands: Clark with Ola Podrida, and both Clark and Hawkins in Pswingset. Papermoons is something altogether different though and while their music certainly speaks to Clark and Hawkins’ contributions to their other bands, it has a life and character all its own. Their latest LP, No Love, is a showcase of these qualities, allowing Clark and Hawkins to take center stage and launch their personal brand of folk-tinged indie rock out into the world.

Papermoons - 'Arms Length'

One of the first things you may notice about No Love (considering my introduction) is that its sound is much bigger than just two people. This is all thanks to the duo’s multi-instrumental talent and the magic of mixing. While this gives the songs a welcome heft, it does distract a bit from the charm of the two-piece, something I was fortunate enough to experience earlier this year at SXSW. Still, Matt Clark’s mixing never feels overdone as he layers himself over himself and Hawkins like a stack of electric guitar and percussion transparencies projected into beautiful artwork against the wall.

Vocally Clark sings with the melancholy sincerity of indie rockers such as Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard or Austin’s own Taylor Muse of Quiet Company. Album opener “Arms Length” exemplifies this with its mid-tempo folksy build and heartfelt lyrics: “and I mean this when I say to you / that my lungs they breathe / and my heart it beats / blood into my arms / just enough to reach.” As Clark struggles in song to reconcile the differences that can bring two people together while keeping them apart, the song builds in complexity and volume, coming to a crescendo of guitar and drums before settling back into a whispery epilogue.

As a whole, No Love follows a pattern very similar to its opener, with the dichotomous hopefulness and despair of relationships serving as a road map of sorts. It’s ultimately tough to pick any one song to stand out as they’re all vital parts of a single sonic landscape. There are moments where I did find myself latching onto the particulars of a given track, however. “Ghost”’s organ and angular guitar were particularly haunting in their own way and the album closer “Lungs” neatly bandages No Love’s exposed nerves with a distracted, meandering composition and the repeated line “I will lay you down / and cauterize your wounds.”

No Love is a mood piece to be sure and if you’re in the mood for this kind of melancholy sincerity then there’s no reason why the album shouldn’t have a place in the rotation with Death Cab and Elliott Smith. While I think I would have liked to hear a less processed sound from this duo – more an approximation of their live sound – I can’t argue with the execution here. No Love is a quality album.

– Brian Audette