Paper Brain

by Thom Kunz

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about

The concept album still seems novel, even though it dates back to the 1940’s with Woodie Guthrie or The Beach Boys in the 1960s. The Who released several, “Tommy” and “Quadrophrenia,” and Pink Floyd made perhaps the most generational with 1979’s “The Wall.” Alice Cooper made one that’s lesser known (and brilliant), 1978’s “From the Inside.”

With lyrics written by Bernie Taupin (a frequent Elton John collaborator) its story of a rock star too far gone ends up in a sanitarium bin to dry out. Its songs half personal and half observation, the album somehow hasn’t become a movie or Broadway show. Ten years ago Green Day took concept albums to mainstream heights (and Broadway) with “American Idiot” and Charlotte, N.C. trio Hectorina released a debut two years ago that was a lengthy concept album/rock opera called “Collywobble.”

In short, the lasting effect of great concept albums has influenced new acts and those underground to push limits of creativity, telling long-from stories through song. Locally, there have been several. This year saw “Dead Man’s Song” from Ekiim Ariara (solo project from Temple5 and Justin Lacy & the Swimming Machine guitar player Michael Buckley) about mental health issues and Poorly Knit’s “Getting Help,” whose intensely personal storytelling concerned the collapse of a serious relationship. Last year Museum Mouth released “Alex I am Nothing,” a concept album about obsessing over a relationship that would never come to be.

In September Thom Kunz released a diverse sounding concept album created by a cast of players described in liner notes as a “collective community project homegrown in Wilmington.” The brainchild of Kunz, it’s colorful, large sounding, and explores human vulnerability and its dark complexities. Awash in styles and sounds, it has various singers dubbed The Paper Choir – Sam Carradori, Jennifer Reid, Addie Wuensch, Joan Childress Wilkerson, and Whitney Pearsall. It features musicians Mike Ruwe, Mike Phillips and author and UNCW Creative Writing Professor Clyde Edgerton playing banjo on “Far Away.”

Together the group has created songs ranging from ballads to caustic synth numbers like “Criminal” or the thunderous “Cuts like a Song.” “Paper Brain” is atypical, not just with varied singers but with structure and ambiance. Well-rounded musically, from scorching industrial synth under Wuensch’s vocals on “Criminal” to Whitney Pearsall’s aching honesty on “Far Away,” this is an album grabbing you from the onset and forty five minutes later releasing its grip. Engaging yes, but the lyrics and melodies linger long after.

“Paper Brain” is less a theatrical album than a thematic one. Pearsall sings on “Far Way” dire lyrics – “This is the last time, I swear it’s the last time, you won’t hurt me anymore, my face against the floor,” the last bit sung weakly, underneath her breath. Or “Hell is a place dressed in a smile” that opens the eight minute “Hell is a Place.” Or “Reduced to fear the ones I love the most” Carradori sings on “Wires.” And desire – such as the haunting refrain of “I wanna be myself again” on “Box of Bells.”

This is painful material, but the album as a whole makes for great, massive music, be it rock, electronic, intimate, spacey, folky, or enticingly hellish. Familiar and new, “Paper Brain” does much with its eight songs. I was reminded of lots of things, sounds and voices across years of different music genres and soundtrack albums. Yes, it brings to mind Pink Floyd and the ups and down’s of that Alice Cooper album, but it’s a mini epic-distant cousin to both and completely its own creation.

The Paper Choir allows for different personalities, facets that help shape an album sonically diverse, atmospheric, and engrossing, partially painting a picture for the listener. The variety, along with different moods, allows the listener to paint more for on their own. Jennifer Reid, on “Messenger” is in stark contrast to Whitney Pearsall on “Far Away” and the result is fantastic. Where Reid is elegant, Pearsall is aching beautiful, and further, on “Criminal” Addie Wuensch is a chameleon, grinding and begging in her vocals.

There’s a side one and side two mentality to “Paper Brain,” something noticeable when flipping the vinyl version and playing it beginning to end. The energy is frantic, seesawing, and putting forth the feeling that there’s a downward spiral at work here. The frenzied personality of the songs is a plus, helping create the feeling of ups and downs and the anguish of personal ordeals. “Tested,” its speeding, out of control personality recalls the violent synth, sans shock factor, of Marilyn Manson (think “Mechanical Animals” era) without ever being something like Marilyn Manson. Joan Childress Wilkerson’s vocals are wild and deliberate on the track whose guitar solo in the middle is a massive slow burn.

Then there’s “Wires,” a sultry number driven by heartbeat percussion and soft vocals interlaced with coarse, altered ones. Sam Carradori’s vocals are strong and mysterious here, Fans of Shara Nelson (Massive Attack) or Lisa Gerrard (Dead Can Dance) on 1999’s “The Insider” soundtrack (namely “Meltdown”) will dig this song and its combined soulful vocals and synth.

“Paper Brain” is a work of unconfined expression and music – a layered album to be experienced, not just heard. Conversely, each of the eight songs can be enjoyed stand-alone, but its best heard as a whole (broken into eight tracks, the album unfurls as a continuous 45 minute experience). Opening with the tribal, heart pounding “Cuts like a Song” it closes with the patient hunting of “Hell is a Place” which has the entire album’s singers as The Paper Choir. This choice, this stacking of songs, feels natural, and “Hell is a Place” feels like destruction, finality, and truce all at once.

“Paper Brain” is a unique album, a great album, one that will leave you wanting more music from these artists.

If you are a vinyl collector, just starting a collection, or looking for something off the radar “Paper Brain” is a must-have.

- Brian Tucker, Wilmington Star-News

credits

released September 1, 2015

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about

Thom Kunz Wilmington, North Carolina

Thom Kunz is a musician and writer who lives in the coastal community of Wilmington, North Carolina.
thomkunzmusic@gmail.com

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Track Name: Cuts Like A Song (feat. Joan Childress Wilkerson)
CUTS LIKE A SONG (feat. Joan Childress Wilkerson)
(music / lyrics: Thom Kunz)

It’s such a pretty, pretty, pretty fucked up world.
An open hand becomes a fist.
On the road, on the run with your saints and demons,
Who betray this silence with a kiss.

We learn to listen up.
We learn to play along,
But when our love is on the tip of a blade

It cuts like a song

Conversationalist.
Sensationalist.
Sensation. On a list of reasons
The seasons never change.

The heart’s a permanent space
For such a rancid place,
And still we fool ourselves
For the love of the chase.
Reassemble the pieces
To shatter all over again.

We can forgive the past.
We can move along.
But at the moment when you finally forget…

It cuts like a song

When I grow up
I want to live in a house
With a dog and a cat and paper mouse.
These are my dreams
And they’ll all come true
And they’ll never be ruined
By someone like you.

Medication.
Meditation.
I’m on the list for the new sensation.
From where I end and you begin.

We’ll always love you.
We’ll always need you.
‘Expectations’ are a patient virtue,
But they cut you,
When they cut you in two.

So, we say our prayers,
And we sing our psalms,
But when the words are gone
And the music fades…
Track Name: Criminal (feat. Addie Wuensch)
CRIMINAL (feat. Addie Wuensch)
(music / lyrics: Thom Kunz)

I’m on the outside, looking outside.
I’m on the outside of the end.
You say we’re falling apart.
You want to make it stop
And set fire to everything you’ve got.
What a pretty mess you’ve made.
What a beautiful mess we’ve made.

We lock ourselves away
From ourselves.

Do you hope to find a criminal for you?
Your imperfect world too cynical for two.

You’re on the inside, looking inside.
You’re on the outside when we begin.
I want to tear you apart.
I want to burn you down.
I want to hold you in my arms.
I’m such a beautiful mess for you.

Do you hope to find a criminal for you?
Your imperfect world too cynical for two.

We lock ourselves away
When we love ourselves.
We lock ourselves away
When we hate ourselves.

Beating in your chest, a paper heart.
The scribblings of your pain,
A work of art.

We burn ourselves away.
We force ourselves to stay.
We lock ourselves away
From ourselves.

Do you hope to find a criminal for you?
Your imperfect world too cynical for two.
Track Name: Far Away (feat. Whitney Pearsall)
FAR AWAY (feat. Whitney Pearsall)
(music: Thom Kunz / lyrics: Thom Kunz & O.E. Cunningham)

Dead and hollow
With no more dreams to follow.
Lay our hands into the sea.

When every smile,
Ever given or received
Wave tired flags of sweet retreat.

Broken walls and shattered glass,
The ripples of your fractured past,
Damages outweigh the lies,
And drift away against the tide;
They struggle for a place to stand,
A ticket to the Promised Land.
It took so long to understand.
Waiting to be free…

As long as you are far away from me.

Before you’re out the door,
I’m asking for more.
This is the last time.
I swear, the last time.
I swear, the last time.
You can’t hurt me anymore.
My face against the floor.

You’re spreading fires,
Blindfolded and afraid,
Burning all we’ve ever made.

So tear it out and slam your fists.
I’ll be the one who takes the hits.
To you, it’s all just black and white,
And burns beneath the grayest light.

So when you go, you go alone
To find a new direction home.
Now I’m staring down this open road
As far as I can see…

As long as you are far away from me.

Waters rise.
Bloodshot eyes.
Through sleepless nights
And our pointless fights.

The warning light is burning bright.
Track Name: Wires (feat. Sam Carradori)
WIRES (featuring Sam Carradori)
(music / lyrics: Thom Kunz)

Twisting through my lungs,
An unsteady breath.
Heavy eyes,
The deepest shades of red.

Releasing all this static in my veins.
Pins & needles claw this paper brain.

Blocked are love and logic
And self-respect.
All my thoughts,
Mathematically incorrect.

Dry & cold,
The heartbeat in my throat.
Reduced to fear the ones
I love the most.

Circuits long,
But time is running short.
Currents switched this flip,
And blind distorts.

Words without an outlet
Scream like fire.
Burned and tangled
In between the wires.

I am the instrument without a sound.
Quiet as the final bulb burns out.


Closer to the edge, I can’t maintain.
Calm as matches on this paper brain.

Plug me in.
Unplug me and admire.
Burned and tangled
In between the wires.
Track Name: Box Of Bells (feat. The Paper Choir)
BOX OF BELLS (feat. The Paper Choir)
(music / lyrics: Thom Kunz)

Seconds ticking out of line,
Shatter every crack in time.
This treason within you.

Minutes stir the urge inside,
Love and logic cast aside
No reason to continue.

It strips away your right to choose,
Sends you on a path to lose,
And never finds a way to compromise.

So bleed another vacant thrill,
Feed another sleeping pill,
A fabrication of someone else.

This box of bells is getting loud.
I hear it ring above the clouds.
It’s making me a mess.
I want to be myself again.

Mornings’ fractured, twisted game.
Voices in this paper brain.
And the greyest days all elapse.

The evenings knocking on your door.
The devil’s creeping on your floor,
Just waiting for your last collapse.

When you’re incarcerated in your skin
When each perfect day
Is a perfect sin.
And no one waiting to say goodbye.

But if you reach inside
Your darkest hour
Where the demons hide your will
To empower the grace
That makes yourself forgive,

This box of bells is getting loud.

This box of bells is getting loud.
I hear it ring above the clouds.
It’s making me a mess.
I want to be myself again.

I want to be myself again

I want to cut you from my heart.
I want to find the means to stop.
I want to play this ‘til the end.
I want to be myself again.

I want to tear you from my heart.
I want the chance for a better start.
I want a place where I can’t pretend.
I want to be myself again.
Track Name: Tested (feat. Joan Childress Wilkerson)
TESTED
(music / lyrics: Thom Kunz)

Do you want to show me something I’ve never seen before?
Do you even have the nerve to try?

Your fist is like a kiss,
Emasculating shove,
When you abandon your instincts and forget your love.
You say you wanna challenge me?
So, challenge me.
Good luck.

I want to be tested,
Forever invested
In all that you do.
I want to be rejected,
A little aggressive
With someone like you.

Do you want to crush this fragile heart within your hands?
Are you waiting for an invitation?

You want to build me up.
You want to break me down.
You want to twist my verbs,
Objectify my nouns.
You want to take my blame.
You want to bury my shame.
You want to scream my name.

I want to be tested,
Forever invested
In all that you do.
I want to be rejected,
A little aggressive
With someone like you.
I want to be tested,
An open confession
Talking me through.
I want to feel tempted,
Hurt and neglected
By someone like you.

I’m looking through you.
I never knew you.
I gave this to you,
And now I want to forgive you.

Can you hear me? This is only a test.
Track Name: Messenger (feat. Jennifer Reid)
MESSENGER
(music: Thom Kunz / lyrics: Thom Kunz & O.E. Cunningham)

There is a breath that’s forming,
Curling around my wrists.
I close my eyes.
It pulls me down to the bottom.

Colder than all our memories,
There is a wind that folds
All of our promises
In halves of truth.

Silent, the messenger is searching.
Will you ever find me?

Slowly, these words escape me,
And cling to the edges of my lips,
Another cold, unwanted kiss.
And you fail to notice me.

Somewhere I just stopped listening,
Even when you’re right here.
But still I bite my tongue and try…

Lost, but the messenger is searching.
Can you feel me breathing?

How can you claim to know me?
Your ignorance is bliss.
Still, I’m accommodating you
And you’re oblivious to me.

Lost, but the messenger is searching.
Can we stop pretending?

Cradle the sky within my arms
Its beauty is suffocating me.
There’s a place where we belong.
It is a place we should never reach.
You love these perfect versions of me.
Can you see why I withdrew?
But still I give myself to you.

There’s an imperfect ending.
There’s a convenient start.
Distorting this compass in my heart.

Silent, the messenger keeps searching
Can you hear me screaming?

But when the dawn reveals its light.
I’ll still be right here waiting.
Track Name: Hell Is A Place (feat. The Paper Choir)
HELL IS A PLACE (feat. The Paper Choir)
(music / lyrics: Thom Kunz)

Hell is a place dressed in a smile.
The tears on her face,
A desert moon sky.
I sit in this hole
When daylight is gone.
Thoughts bleed me dry.
Words leave me numb.

Do you want to play ‘make believe’?
Do you think I’m naïve?
And do you forget about me,
When you lie and deceive?
All you’ve taken from me…

It crawls up my skin,
The things we’ve never said.
Hell is a place,
In the warmth of our bed.
And while I’m away,
You’re voice fills my head.
Hell is a place,
Where love finds an end.

Hell is a place.
When will they come?
Footsteps are creeping.
I’m sleeping. I’m sleeping.

Here in the storm.
A gun on my knee.
Taking my aim,
You’re the face that I see.

Do you want to play ‘make believe’?
Do you think I’m naïve?
And do you forget about me,
When you lie and deceive?
All you’ve taken from me…

Crawl through the flames.
The words we never said.
Hell is a place,
In the warmth of our bed.
Cool as an angel,
Warm like the dead.
Hell is a place,
Where loves finds an end.

Heaven’s a place in the hell of your head, I said…

I don’t want to play ‘make believe’?
But I think you’re naïve.
I hope you forget about me,
All the love you received
All you’ve taken from me…

It cuts like a song
And leaves you for dead.
And Hell is the place
Where the heart can’t defend.

This paper brain
Will learn to transcend.
If hell is the place,
Where loves finds an end.