I’ve listened to Little Letters, the third album by Welsh duo Paper Aeroplanes over and over, and enjoyed it. But I’ve procrastinated writing a review because there is something in the nature of the songs that will slowly reveal itself over time, a depth that goes above and beyond the very effective folk pop dynamic which they seem close to having perfected. I can’t help but wonder what the album will seem like to me in say, a month’s time. If I could predict it, I would say that despite the eventual desensitisation that comes with hearing a great tune over and over again, the songs on this album will endure. There’s a sense that these are songs rooted in something substantial, an emotional anchor, holding all the pieces together with a powerful urgency.
It helps that this is a band with an excellent sense of song-craft, of pop dynamic, of how to create, sustain and release tension. For instance, the first track When The Windows Shook is an instantly arresting piece of folk rock pop that is satisfying and catchy, with a great spaghetti Western guitar riff from Richard Llewellyn, – all of this is immediately apparent on first listening. However on repeated listens, details begin to jump out at you: the way Sarah Howells’ voice is carried along, like a kite caught in a fierce wind, by the rock beat, the subtle piano and ethereal backing vocals adding atmospheric texture. It’s nice enough to have an opening track on an indie folk album that unashamedly rocks, let alone one with this much depth.
Basically, Paper Aeroplanes know how to shape emotional resonances into songs, or know how to imbue songs with emotional resonances. They are people who know what they’re doing. The ponderous Red Rover endears itself to me by sounding like it could be a forgotten track from Fleetwood Mac’s offbeat masterpiece Tusk, with wonderfully imaginative, minimalistic drums, approaching something like a kind of understated disco beat. The drumming is similarly brilliant on the next track Singing to Elvis, carrying the song with a kind of lazy swing that builds in enthusiasm throughout the track. Again and again, surface catchiness gives way to ingenious song-craft on repeated listens. The double bass and stinging string arrangements of the track Little Letters and the folk-punk of Palm Of Your hand are also highlights.
At times, it can seem like folk pop is treated like an excuse to be content with little- songs that sound ‘nice’ but don’t have any edge or bite. Little Letters does not have this flaw. It’s a strong piece of work by eminently reliable, confident and imaginative song-writers. We should do all we can to encourage them.