Papertwin: Vox Humana — I’ve said more than once that what’s most important to me in music is emotional content. Sure, an artist can understand the theory and the concept of the music. More specifically, a basic understanding of the keyboards and the software is all it takes for someone to start their journey to synth superstardom. But the mere understanding of the instrument will not produce aurally pleasing music, and nothing is more insulting than a purposeful manipulation of emotion because an artist understands the concept of empathy. Somewhere in-between these two negative fields is a sweet spot where the music matches the emotion, and it becomes something more than twiddling knobs and sad lyrics.
This is where Vox Humana, the third EP by synth trio Papertwin, proudly sits. It’s only six songs but I felt as if I had completed a long journey by the end. There are a lot of worrisome buzz words being thrown around by buzz blogs, most troublesome being “synth shoegaze”. It’s not entirely inaccurate and there have already been some unsuccessful attempts at capturing that sound, but I feel there’s a lot more going on. Again, this isn’t just knob twiddling and sad lyrics. This is the lamentation of self-aware machines.
‘Alkaline’ begins in familiar territory with solid basslines and a nice kick drum before purposefully straying into a Kate Bush reminiscent splendor. Max Decker’s voice is immediately pleasing and familiar, because we have been him once. While the foundation of the song is solid and perhaps even aggressive, the higher synths and vocals writhe, curl, appear, and disappear like smoke. If Papertwin is new to you, I suggest this song be your guide into their world. On ‘Headlights’ there is again some powerful drum work to compliment the morose nature of the synths. This is why you won’t see the word “shoegaze” ever again in this article. Papertwin has both an angry heartbeat and teeth.
‘Whale’ was an automatic standout to me because of its grand, sweeping nature. It’s an intensely emotional song; both vocals and music cry out in a crescendo of angry humans and depressed machines. It lands somewhere between Radiohead’s ‘Ideoteque’ and Underworld’s ‘Puppies’. The song doesn’t really end either, it just blends into an equally powerful track, ‘Arco’. The rest of Vox Humana doesn’t really let up on the intensity after that. After the EP ended I thought, what now? I decided to sit in silence because anything else would have sounded shallow after having been tossed around in a synth storm.
The nods to both Radiohead and Underworld are, to me, very clear in Papertwin’s work. For all intents and purposes, they remind me of Radiohead before everything got too jaded and abstract. And they also sound very much like Underworld’s second and third albums, which deconstructed an entire genre and got thousands of people to pack arenas to listen to what was basically free form poetry set to music. Papertwin achieve a sound that is both challenging and accessible, and Decker’s vocals made me connect with him. Influences aside, the image that came to me when I had heard the last moment of Vox Humana was of a machine that wanted to be human, but didn’t realize all the burdens we bear. This artificial being, experiencing heartache and pain, and all the different shades of human emotion for the first time, cries out in regret but does not ask to stop the experience. This EP is something that should be experienced far away from any hype. Let it speak to you on a personal level…10/10