Album Review: Printer Clips – Printer Clips

By on Tuesday, 20th May 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Printer Clips 'Printer Clips' coverSince the release of their sixth album last summer, two of the three members of Bell X1 have taken time off to work on individual projects. Multi-instrumentalist David Geraghty has embarked on a solo effort called Join Me in the Pines, which our Cheryl had the chance to experience live earlier this spring (click here to read her thoughts on that show), while frontman Paul Noonan has cobbled together an album of duets under the collective name Printer Clips.

The self-titled album ‘Printer Clips’ finds Noonan in collaboration with an assortment of female singers, performing songs that were conceived as duets and recorded in improvised spaces designed to underscore the simplicity and intimacy of the arrangements. The songs were initially released as two separate digital-only EPs, ‘The Left Sleeve’ and ‘The Right Sleeve’, further accentuating the two-sided nature of the compositions. (Noonan first touched on this idea with Bell X1’s ‘Chop Chop’; read his thoughts in our earlier interview here.)

The songs on ‘Printer Clips’ are a curious mix of newly released material and already recognizable tunes. Even in the previously unknown songs, there is are elements of familiar ideas being fleshed out for further consideration. Opening track and first teaser ‘Apparatchik’ finds Noonan in comfortable harmony with Lisa Hannigan, while a duet Hannigan has previously performed with him, ‘Some Surprise’, is handled here by Australian folk singer Julia Stone. This arrangement of that song came as some surprise to me, switching Noonan’s voice to the harmony line in a lower octave, but it otherwise remains true to the previously recorded version.

Similarly, ‘The Snowman’, originally a Bell X1 throwaway from 2009’s ‘Blue Lights on the Runway’, sees the light of day here in a stripped back acoustic version with the additional vocal layer sung by Gemma Hayes. The harmony is pretty, but lacking a definitive musical intent, it detracts from the quietly introspective lyrics. Then again, I’ve been chasing my tail around this song for a long time, and I’m not sure I’ve ever really gotten the gist of it anyway. Its own lyric, “I’m not saying it’s all come to nothing / It’s all come to something I’m not quite getting,” seems to sum it up most appropriately.

In ‘The Cartographer’, Noonan extends a metaphor he previously explored in the song ‘West of Her Spine’ from Bell X1’s 2003 album ‘Music in Mouth’. It might at first seem lazy for a songwriter to recycle themes in such an obvious way, but in this case the song does take a slightly new perspective on the intimacy of the described circumstance, sharing it with another voice as one would share that moment with another person. The vocal back and forth on this track is sweet and pure, the slight weakness in Noonan’s voice adequately covered by the rich texture of Maria Doyle Kennedy.

The most striking vocal combinations on the album are with Amy Millan (Broken Social Scene, Stars) on ‘If I Had Your Grace’ and Danielle Harrison on ‘My Rome Is Burning’. The purity in each of their singing voices is a perfect match for Noonan’s light and unaffected tone, allowing the quiet warmth in the lyrics to shine through the songs’ delicate arrangements.

Two narrative tracks, ‘Mrs Winchester’ (performed with Martha Wainwright) and ‘The Dolphins and the World’s Tallest Man’ (with Cathy Davey) both have a very definite Americana folk flavor in their music. In the case of ‘Mrs Winchester’, the plot line of the song is also straight out of the American West, relating the endlessly sad tale of Sarah L Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms fortune. ‘The Dolphins and The World’s Tallest Man’ is another bizarre tale about exactly what the title suggests, inspired by the hero of a news story from 2006. In typical Noonan fashion, the final lines of the song fix a disarming focus on a seemingly inane detail, relating the man’s effort to find a wife by advertising on the Internet: “It’s funny how these things work out / she was only from down the road / and she worked in sales”.

‘Printer Clips’ has the very definite feel of a side project by a songwriter with spare time on his hands and loose ends on his mind. Despite the spontaneous nature of the recording style, the songs themselves are carefully considered and sensitively crafted, managing to achieve both a measure of cerebral intrigue and an impression of sincere charm.

7.5/10

“Printer Clips’ is due for release on the 23rd of May on Bone China Records. Printer Clips are scheduled to perform live on the 24th of May at The National Concert Hall, Dublin. Listen to a stream of ‘Mrs Winchester’ below.

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