Paper Birch have just released their stunning debut album, morninghairwater on vinyl via Reckless Yes. It was written under lockdown between May and June 2020. A fervent correspondence of lyrics, ideas and sounds between musicians Fergus Lawrie of cult band Urusei Yatsura and Dee Sada of NEUMES/An Experiment on A Bird in The Air Pump.
As a massive fan of Urusei Yatsura I was dying to get this one on the speakers but as I was to discover, this is a quite different animal altogether.
The album opens on a screech of feedback the Jesus and Mary Chain would be proud of. “Summer Daze” is an extreme noise experiment against the gentlest of vocal deliveries. It’s almost like Sonic Youth teamed up with Vashti Bunyan. Totally exhilarating and enthralling, you won’t be able to do anything but focus on the sounds coming from your speakers. What a start.
In contrast “Love for the Things Yr Not” is a sparse, pared back piece of indie pop. With both Lawrie and Sada delivering vocals throughout, this has a romantic vibe. Like two lovers, separated by distance, singing to and about each other. It’s quite beautiful.
“Elegy As We Mourn” is led by Sada’s powerful yet tender vocal. All the while it is being increasingly pummelled by the electronic conjuring’s of Lawrie. Only dropping in the chorus of “And it’s black…” the textures he weaves are fascinating and ever evolving. I can listen to this track all day.
“I Don’t Know You” reminds me of a lo-fi Primitives track. It has that late 80’s kind of alternative feel like something from their Lovely album. While the driving drums get your foot tapping Lawrie assaults and delights us with his ferocious guitar squalls. This is my kind of song.
“Hide” is the most experimental track on the album with its arhythmic drums and discordant soundscape stretched over six minutes. Whilst not an instant hit with my ears, after soaking this up a few times in the headphones I found myself getting lost in it. Surrendering to the void and letting Sada’s soothing voice guide me. There is some ancient magick at work here.
“Cemetery Moon” has a big Beck influence sounding not unlike “Jack-Ass” in places. That only endeared it to me. After the intense experience of ‘Here’ this was a welcome change of pace and tone.
“Blue Heartbreak” is a brilliant slice of lo-fi indie pop. Over a drumbeat that sounds like it came from a Casio keyboard (other keyboards are available folks) is a stunner of an indie pop track. Love the vocals on this, very much like the opener.
Taking the pace down a notch is “Curse Us”. A sparse and bleak affair, punctuated by a stuttering electronic backing. The rest of track is populated by Sada’s low and tender tones and Lawrie’s guitar attacks. It’s just lovely.
The album closes as it began on a sea of feedback upon which floats a killer melody sang by both members. The bass plucks out the path to keep the song from flying out the speakers. This is a stylish way to end the album and makes a real statement.
It’s something that Paper Birch excel at. With every track they have indelibly stamped their unique identity all over them. That’s down to the strength of the songwriting at play here. Beneath all the textures and tones live stunningly beautiful songs. Lyrics that will break your heart and lift your soul. This album left me smiling and reaching for the play button again. That’s the highest praise I think I can give.