Slumberland Records hasn’t changed its aesthetic much since launching in 1989. The label has tended to release indie-pop bands that favor hazy musical arrangements full of trebly guitars and wistful, vaguely British-sounding vocals. Papercuts fits right in with Parallel Universe Blues, the band’s sixth album and first for Slumberland.
The 10 songs on Parallel Universe Blues are atmospheric and catchy in a melancholic kind of way. Frontman/mastermind Jason Quevar has described the album as a “post-breakup record” tied in to his move from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and having to find his place in a new city and become part of a new scene. It’s all a bit more oblique than that in the songs, which often contain an undercurrent of mordant wit: Quevar sets the scene on “How to Quit Smoking,” describing a pack of cigarettes on the dresser as someone reads a self-help book in bed and declares, “This is the last one.” His voice is wreathed in reverb, accompanied by a sturdy backbeat and head-bobbing guitar riff that bubbles up between verses.
Quevar has a broad command of lo-fi musical touches (many of which aren’t lo-fi at all, despite the descriptor), and he creates full, layered soundscapes that are more direct than the chamber-esque songs on the band’s 2014 release Life Among the Savages. Squiggles of rubbery guitar warble through a blanket of static on opener “Mattress on the Floor.” There’s bright, blaring organ and a loose jumble of percussion on “Kathleen Says” and the shake of a tambourine augments downhearted vocals on “All Along St Mary’s.” There’s even cello lurking just beneath the surface on “Clean Living,” and queasy, super-compressed guitar on “Waking Up.”
Parallel Universe Blues is actually the second-best project Quevar has worked on this year: he also produced Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre, an unexpectedly riveting “western dream-pop” album. By contrast, Papercuts’ latest breaks little new ground. All the same, it’s an appealing, skillfully constructed collection of songs, and sometimes, that’s enough.