Headliners: Paper Airplane

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Walk the streets of any small town in America, and the stories will almost write themselves.

For the most part, the drama is subtle and odd in ways you'd never expect. It unfolds in tiny houses and humble settings. Hidden among elm trees and behind garage doors are characters trying to survive, trying to make sense of a life that passes by them in a blur.

On weekdays at The Marysville Journal-Tribune, Ryan Horns has a direct line to Main Street, USA. Plunked next to a radio scanner that feeds his police beat, he listens to a wash of success and failure, the ethos of regular people trying to doing extraordinary things. He takes notes. He follows up.

These curiosities provide the backbone of White Elephants, the excellent second album from local power-pop band Paper Airplane. They'll release it Friday, Aug. 21, at Ruby Tuesday with support from Super Desserts and Winter Makes Sailors.

"Some of the characters are made up, but a lot of them are people I meet in Marysville," said Horns, the band's lead singer, guitarist and songwriter. "Some dude will get arrested and it's funny or poignant, so I'll transfer that into a lyric or even an entire song. There's a lot of good people trying to do stuff."

Characters on the album wander the streets in horror and learn how to dance beyond white-picket fences. They lie naked and look for answers. They're are linked only by their flawed yet relatable humanity.

Each song is a snapshot, and the band will have you peering into a life you've never wondered about otherwise.

"He doesn't give us a lyric sheet or anything," drummer Antonio Garza said. "We'll play a song after a while and then you'll catch something that he said."

In some ways, this album plays like a second edition of Middlemarch!, a stellar 2007 debut of sunny pop that borrowed heavily from Cat Stevens, The Shins, Wilco and Ram-era Paul McCartney. The lovely vocal layers, delicate keys and general pleasantness are largely intact throughout 16 new songs.

Yet, in important ways, the band took risks, toeing the boundaries of what can be enjoyed immediately.

"It was all about trying to push the elements of pop music," Horns said. "There's elements of the first CD in there with a few songs, then elements of us throwing in the kitchen sink and then elements of us trying something totally new."

Individual tracks bear influences from the outside - the narcotic drone of The Velvet Underground on "Spring Vultures" or the saccharine punch of Big Star on "Time Is Full of Photographs." Still, everything comes back to the clear, gentle sound the band has made its own.

That sound is the result of breathing room and a lack of pressure. Paper Airplane's not really looking to make it - only to make records they like. If they wanted to get serious, band members joke, they should've bought a van five years ago.

"I was in a band before where that was all they were worried about," Garza explained. "We never played any shows. We just practiced and practiced and recorded but never did anything with the recordings."

Even the collapse earlier this year of local label All Hail Records didn't really faze them. This time around, members had heard a sound they liked, worked with Cincinnati producer Brian Niesz to get it and fleshed everything out at a relaxed pace.

"It sounds like it could've been made in the '60s, or it sounds like it could've been made today," Horns said. "You could hear everybody situated in the room. The sound is very warm."

For much more local music coverage, check the Sensory Overload blog.

Paper Airplane

When: 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 21

Where: Ruby Tuesday, Campus

Web: myspace.com/therealpaperairplane