August 13, 2005

The Paper Chase "God Bless Your Black Heart"

I never thought I’d see the day in which Kill Rock Stars, once the home of a thousand amateurish “riot-grrl” bands, would release a misogynistic nü-metal record…but if Teena Marie can get signed to Cash Money, anything is possible nowadays. Before anyone cries “sell out,” though, rest assured that the Paper Chase’s new album is good enough to justify the ideological compromise. Besides, calling their music “misogynistic nü-metal” would be selling it short. Most nü-metal sounds like it was made by a bunch of guys who still haven’t gotten over not getting laid in high school, and think that “heaviness” is far more important than compositional skill. Paper Chase auteur John Congleton, on the other hand, is the real deal. If God Bless Your Black Heart is anything to go by, he’s a religiously tormented sociopath who got screwed over tremendously by his ex and is out for blood. Song titles like “Abby, You’re Going to Burn for What You’ve Done to Me” reinforce this impression even before the disc enters the player! Not only that, but he and his band are talented enough to make such pain translate to the listener in musical Technicolor. You’ll bang your head and sing along, but you’ll also fear for your life.

This Denton quartet’s discography is a case study in self-actualization. Over the course of four albums and three EPs they’ve perfected their sound in such a way that each release becomes more bombastic and accomplished than the last. Congleton has always sang in the reediest, most nasal voice this side of “Weird Al” Yankovic, supplementing his rants with incessantly squealing guitars that sound like police sirens playing Frippertronics. Queasy, dissonant piano, whether played by Congleton or newest member Sean Kirkpatrick, has always shared center stage with the guitars. Bassist Bobby Weaver and drummer Aryn Dalton have long been Texas’ answer to Led
Zeppelin’s two Johns. On God Bless Your Black Heart, though,
the four musicians establish a synergy that makes their already
intimidating sound become truly fearsome. Add Congleton’s astonishing skill as a producer and arranger to the mix, and the fearsome becomes downright oppressive. Every word and note on this album is carefully positioned for maximum effect. For 53 straight minutes, this album maintains a level of suspense and terror that one would expect from a Wes Craven or M. Night Shyamalan flick.

Opener “Said the Spider to the Fly” is a 2/4 death march that begins
with the sound of footsteps. These footsteps become the heartbeat of the song, and layers of instruments slowly emerge underneath John’s vow of revenge against an unfaithful woman. Once the song ends, we overhear two disembodied voices conversing about cannibalism. By the time you turn the stereo up to make out what they‘re saying, “One Day He Went Out for Milk and Never Came Home” begins with a scream that will make the hairs on your neck stand up. “Sweetheart, I’d send you up to heaven,” Congleton sings in this song’s climax, “but you’d eat them out of house and home.” Congleton’s ex is put through immeasurable torture on this album. On “Ready, Willing,
Cain and Able” he deems her a religious hypocrite. Three songs later, “Your Ankles to Your Earlobes” finds him drugging her, beating her, and accusing her of letting other men “gangbang” her.

One of the best things about this album is its expert employment of
sound effects to establish atmosphere and reinforce Congleton‘s lyrical conceits. On “What I’d Be Without Me,” his cut-up voice condemns women for gravitating to abusive men (and men for seeking vapid whores), as unidentified women scream in the background. “Now, We Just Slowly Circle the Draining Fish Bowl” laments our inability to suppress or eliminate the darker side of our psyches. In this song, the sound of bees buzzing is used to represent the protagonist’s nagging conscience. Other songs employ testifying
preachers and emergency hotline phone calls to underscore the fatalism of the lyrics.

When Congleton isn‘t attacking his ex, he directs his anger toward
other chauvinistic men (“The Sinking Ship The Grand Applause”) and sexual deviants. “Let’s Be Bad, Henry, Let’s Be Really Bad” is sung from the point of view of a homosexual man trying to convince the married man he’s sleeping with to come clean to his wife and leave her. Congleton’s hatred of everyone (including himself) is so all consuming that by album’s end, he’s wishing to die so that he can have something---anything---resembling peace. Shockingly, despite the histrionic music, not a whit of Congleton’s rage comes across as exaggerated or hackneyed. Either the man really is a ticking time bomb, or he’s much more gifted a writer than his critics give him credit for being.

What a double-edged sword this album is: it illustrates the darker side of human nature so well that most listeners won’t ever digest it in one sitting. This website’s very own editor can’t even get past the fourth track! It’s not enough that the Paper Chase have a sound that borders on indescribable (Limp Bizkit with a Pentecostal upbringing and Ph.Ds in music theory?), but they also insist on putting their listeners through utter psychological warfare! This album’s quite the endurance test, but I have to recommend it anyway.

--Sean Padilla

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Anonymous said...

this is quite possibly the worst review i've ever read. the person who wrote this should swallow a bullet and then swim in a lake of fire. and if you didn't realize it, reviewer, john congleton writes metaphorically. so your theories about different songs content, like his ex and his self hatred, are quite wrong.

try this: the next time you decide to write a review, do a little research. dont sit down with the cd and a piece of paper, cause in the end your only going to find what your looking for, especially when your listening to conceptual albums that are above and beyond your intellectual capacity.

Joseph Kyle said...


I took your criticism to heart, until I saw that you have difficulty with the whole 'your/you're' concept. Your lecturing someone about their intellectual capacity sure does lose its bite, doesn't it? Or is that why you're posting anonymously?

Besides, Sean kicks ass, and I stand behind what he writes.

PS it's pAper chAse!

Sean Padilla said...

Whoever felt the need to point out to me that Congleton writes metaphorically probably failed to notice this sentence in the review:

Either the man really is a ticking time bomb, or he’s much more gifted a writer than his critics give him credit for being.

In retrospect, I think I did spend a bit too much time in the review conflating Congleton the person and Congleton the writer. However, the quoted sentence should be taken as an explicit acknowledgment that they may not be one and the same. In other words, I'm not the dumb-ass the anonymous commenter thinks I am.

People need to get a grip and realize that writing a review you disagree with, or even a review that you feel is poorly written, isn't a crime against humanity.