I have to thank Lea Marra yet again. If not for her, and her Love Fest music festival in Chardon, OH, I wouldn’t know half of my favorite local bands.
I remember fondly the night I went to see the penultimate show for her old band, The Tom Katlees, at the Happy Dog on Detroit Avenue. They played a great set, and we all danced.
Afterward, a band I had never heard of was coming up. They told me Paper Morning was from Columbus, explaining my unfamiliarity. Touring bands from the neighborhood over tend to be pretty good, so I decided to stick around.
BOY! What a good decision! We never stopped dancing, even though the folks we came to see were finished.
Paper Morning is a five-piece rock group, and every one of the five supplies a necessary part of what makes this band unique and vital. I was immediately hooked on guitarist Brogan Reilly’s tone and chops, even before he grabbed his trumpet. I was interested keenly in Reggie Bacchus’ antics of running back and forth from keyboards to an elaborate percussion setup. Andrew Dwyer’s ear for syncopation and dynamics make him an excellent kit drummer. Daniel Ita’s bass flows slinkily. And I was transfixed with lead singer Brent Skoda and his guitar; he has an odd voice that he uses to fill the mix in a unique way that I compared immediately to the lighter moments of Maynard James Keenan.
As soon as I heard “Another Day” at that first show, I knew I needed their music for my car. I bought their first two albums even though I was tight on cash at the time. I listened to them quite a lot, including along my way from Cleveland to the Pacific Ocean coast in summer 2018.
I didn’t hear anything from them for a while, and I wondered what they were up to, if anything. It was a pleasant surprise for me in late 2019 when they updated their social media accounts and announced an album release for April 2020. Anxiously, I gobbled up the singles they released ahead of the record.
First came “Mind My Business,” which daftly tumbles over crooked, groovy beats. Start-stop dynamics, syncopation, and triplets make the verses pop, and then POW! The instrumental chorus blasts forward with horns and an unexpected stomping rhythm. On repeat, I listened to Skoda intone exactly the anxiety I had felt waiting for their next release: “Gonna hold my breath ’till I just pass out…” I impatiently look forward to hearing the outro live; I’m sure the whole place is gonna be hopping.
The next single, “Ice,” features a funny cover picture of Reggie as a child, muggin’ like he’s up to something. The band describes it on their Bandcamp as, “Grabby but chill.” This song is propelled by a choppy guitar rhythm and changes of atmosphere.
Third single “Images” opens with a smash, as Reilly tosses around hammer-ons and pull-offs like a pro. It then switches between a subdued mezzo verse with nice punctuation, and a bursting rompy keyboard/guitar lead that serves as the chorus. The draggy syncopation of the post-chorus lends a ton of momentum. And the bridge suddenly becomes a samba setting for Reilly’s third and fourth guitar solos on the track. He’s got one of the best tones in town, so the spotlight is warranted.
With their third release, Paper Morning continues with the ‘mini-album’ format they established early on. All three have been 7 tracks long, and each one clocks between 25 and 28 minutes in length, NEWS becoming the longest of the three.
As an album, NEWS is easily Paper Morning’s most cohesive. On their first two albums, recorded simultaneously, they featured the same elements: a bunch of incredibly talented guys, rock, pop, jazz, fusion, great drumming. But I find myself skipping around less on this one. They took a while arranging and mixing it, but the time in the pipeline clearly paid off; Paper Morning is now focused and decisive, with an established style all their own. Before, they were promising; with NEWS, they absolutely deliver on that promise and inspire emotion.
“Better Off” does this the best. “Just relax – Let them pass – Tears will come – Don’t hold back…” Its verse is the slowest stanza on the record, and at track number 5, it gets to be a relief from the relentless rhythm of the beginning. This is a move of genius; by the time I got here, I was ready for a moment to relax, and especially the gorgeous and sad outro sat me right down. I was just about to start crying.
And then, “Images” kicked in, and my composure was reinstated. There is magic in placing songs in the right sequence, and Paper Morning show keen understanding of that witchcraft; certainly in a way they hadn’t yet on their earlier material, which I tended to skip around to find my favorites. The only button necessary with NEWS is ‘play’. The biggest outlier in the whole thing is lead single “Mind My Business,” which is tacked right on the end. An apt comparison is The Zombies’ immortal Odessey and Oracle, which dropped hit single “Time of the Season” at the end. This tactic of placing familiarity at the close lends to a feeling of comfort and satisfaction as the music ends.
I’ll say it again and again and again: great dynamics are essential to make for a great album. Paper Morning puts on a clinic, anchored by Dwyer’s restless ability to create inertia with his beats.
Hard work pays off for Paper Morning, as their third album NEWS upgrades their status from ‘capable’ to ‘exceptional,’ and they should be on every local year-end list for album of the year come December.