Nashville psych-pop trio The Paperhead attempt to pad-out a handful of solid songs into a full-length release with minimal success. Combining the sound of psychedelic acts of the 60’s with occasional country and Latin elements, Ryan Jennings and company are back with their fourth LP, Chew. And although the record is beautifully recorded, with crisp drums and naturalistic vocals, the songs delivered often feel unnecessarily drawn-out and monotonous.
Chew’s opening track, “The True Poet”, starts things off strongly, utilizing a woozy, bending lead guitar line along with brass and an analogue organ. The song is a decent choice for an opener, and while it smartly sets an intended mood, it unfortunately ends up being the album’s high water mark that none of the songs that follow are able to recapture in terms of songwriting or production quality. The tracks “Pig” and “Emotion (Pheromones)” quickly find The Paperhead leaning on repetitive, back and forth, up and down chord structures, and although the former differentiates itself with the addition of a banjo, and the latter throws in a glockenspiel, both songs are ultimately unenjoyable and unsalvageable.
Things are somewhat improved by the time we reach the end of Chew’s first third. The Beatle-esque “Over and Over” delivers a lovingly strummed acoustic guitar combined with pleasant pedal steel guitar as Jennings sings in a gentle style not far removed from George Harrison. But just as things seem to be turning around, the unfortunate “Love You to Death” enters. While the song has a fun middle that includes an excellent guitar and drum solo, the repeated call-and-response line, “And I love you to death,” is possibly the most frustrating and annoying moment on the record, that is until “Fairy Tales” follows with its sad attempt at psychedelia, adding tired, trippy studio effects and painful, intentionally sour chords.
“Dama de Lavenda” may be the closest Chew comes to recovering the high heights attained on the record’s opener. With its Latin horns and galloping strumming, the song is immediately reminiscent of the best moments from Love’s Forever Changes. Chew’s second half does little to nothing to improve on its A side. “Duly Noted” finds The Paperhead stepping on the accelerator, but, again, the song’s monotonous back and forth, up and down chord structure instantly drains it of any enjoyment.
The rest of the songs on Chew find the band returning to their sometimes successful country music techniques, but more often than not The Paperhead rely on woefully cheap attempts at psychedelia that come across as ingenuous and hollow when compared to similar songs from fifty years prior. By the time the last third of the record is reached, it’s evident the band is just repeating compositional techniques that didn’t work the first time they tried them. Overall, Chew’s finest moments are few and far between, the conclusion being, the strongest offerings from this collection may have worked better if delivered as a much more scaled-down, concise set.