It would not be fair just to look at Paper Airplanes‘ sophomore re-release Scandal, Scandal, Scandal Down in the Wheat Field without looking at the two very distinct parts that make up the complete album; the music and the story. Paper Airplanes released their debut album Boyhood back in 2005/2007 with a fair amount of buzz. While an ambitious release with a lot of promise, the general consensus was that the album lacked direction, and often too busy. Scandal was recorded in 2008 but due to a fall out with their label never really saw the light of day, aside from a few hundred copies distributed at shows. However, on Tuesday the 19th, thanks to the folks at Air House Records, a Kansas label, is giving their local boys Paper Airplanes the release that this album absolutely deserves.
First, to address the music and the sound of this album itself: For me, the star of this whole album is their use of percussion. Many of the songs are defined by a steady drum beat that sets the tone. Clashing cymbals work to define the climaxes, while decrescendos of strings emphasize the emotional lows. One of my favorite things about the sound of this album is how well it plays straight through. Anyone listening can tell that they had put deliberate thought into the pacing and sequencing of the album. Clearly, the narrative aspect of it plays a part, which we will address in a bit, but often times the sound, vibe and momentum of the previous track flow seamlessly into the next. My qualm with the general sound is that the vocals are not well defined enough, and, much like its predecessor, Scandal can come off as busy at times to a casual listener.
Now, to the narrative portion of this album. It doesn’t take an English Lit major to deduce that there is something more to an album than fun percussions and drawn out vocals when the first track is titled “Prologue”. I have listened to this fifty minute musical tale over and over and here is what I have gathered, and I do not want to ruin it for you, but there seems to have been a scandal that occurred, perhaps in the wheat field. In all seriousness, our narrator throughout the course of this album seems to run the gambit of emotions. Many of the songs in the first part of the album have the unmistakable tones of paranoia, starting prominently on the second track, where our narrator makes the point of saying how he feels unsafe. When listening to the album often time the story, which tracks a murder and the ultimate judgment, was hard to follow but the feeling of each song was not. Some other feelings that I got while listening included, but absolutely not limited to: Guilt, Bravado, Fear, Hopelessness, Hope, Despair, Unfairness, Angry etc.
One of my favorite parts of the album comes on “White Angry Saxon Protestant” a song for which I love and for more reason other than the fact that title reflects my neighborhood growing up. Around the two minute mark, all of the instruments cut out and we hear the sound of wind rustling through emptiness that is joined with the stellar percussions that we have grown accustomed too. This little touch adds to the general forebodingness of the album and exemplifies how much attention to detail was put into this record. Listening to individual songs on this album would not do it justice because the sum is greater than its parts. However, if I were to pick a track that encapsulates this album it would have to be “Oh Dahlsy, Ascend the Flame” which occurs right in the middle of the album. While it isn’t my favorite song on the album (That title would have to go to “Debutantes” or “Belovedaire”), “Oh Dahlsy” seems to be the turning point in our story and possess a change in tone within the song itself. It also instructs the audience to “Listen, listen, listen” on multiple occasions, which is something you must do to fully appreciate this album. It also contains the line “Some sounds get muddled in our dreams,” which sums up my own analysis of the album better than I could. While Scandal is clearly a creative epic, it often has too many things going own. I am sure that Paper Airplanes have high hopes for this record, as very well they should, but this musical epic seems to have bitten off a tad more than it can chew.
I would implore you to give Scandal a listen or two for yourself and get lost in the story Paper Airplanes has written for us.