"POP" SEEMS TOO frivolous a word for what Jason Quever does. Sure, all the ingredients are there: sweet, catchy, three- or four-minute songs, generally on the subject of love or its accompanying frustration, driven by easy but insistent rhythms and intently pervasive melodies. Quever's records, which he releases under the name Papercuts, are crafted to be as seductive to the ear as possible, and as such they define the word "pop"—in its classic, teenage-symphonies-to-god connotation—with perfect acuity.
But there's more to Papercuts than grabby tunes. Each of the albums since Papercuts' 2000 debut is, somewhere along the way, tinged with profound melancholy and an almost martial sense of sorrow. Each attains an elegiac majesty, and at their very best—for instance, the sumptuous Fading Parade, which came out earlier this year on Sub Pop—the albums offer much more gravity than you'd expect from a simple, 10-song strand of pop ditties.
There's a drowsy, druggy sheen over Papercuts' melodies too, with production that usually relies on heavy reverb over guitars, churchlike organ, and Quever's tranquil voice—making the '60s a frequent if lazy comparison. "When I first started getting reviews and people said that, I was just like, 'God, people are going to think I'm some dude who walks around like Austin Powers or something,'" says Quever. "It used to seem more insulting, but now I realize it's a reference to a certain aesthetic."
He suggests that Papercuts' distinctive sound came more out of necessity than a desire to echo pop's past. "Having recorded at home a lot, when I first started I didn't have anything cool," he says, "and big sounds seemed very lush. Just the idea of things becoming lush seemed like something to strive for. But I don't feel like I want everything to sound that washed out at all—whoever's writing a song, you want to feel like you can see them fully, and I maybe work too hard to hide a little bit."
If Papercuts' thick, Gold Star Studios-like reverb is reminiscent of '60s-period pop, the songs otherwise forgo the brassy sounds of that era, which were designed to make the music jump out of the tiny, tinny transistor radio speakers of the day. Rather, Papercuts' breathy productions seem intended to fully envelop the listener with a foglike ambience. Perhaps Quever feels like he sometimes conceals himself within his records, but his approach awards the listener the starring role in his songs. This is especially true in "Do What You Will," one of Fading Parade's many highlights. Driven by a backbeat from drummer Graham Hill and bassist Frankie Koeller from Papercuts' live band (which is rounded out by keyboardist David Enos), it builds up to a soaring chorus whose guileless joy is more or less an invitation for the listener to crawl inside the song. Quever sings with you, not at you.
"I record a lot of bands," says Quever, who's done production work for Gold Leaves, Cass McCombs, and others, "and I have to look at people when they do vocals, and I know that everyone hates their own voice. People have the drive to do things, but they also have moments where they doubt what they do. Most people I know are of two minds—but it doesn't mean that I don't believe in what I'm doing when I'm doing it. I wouldn't be able to get in front of people if I didn't."