REVIEW: Paper Void - I N C R E M E N T S

Kelly Kirwan

“We had it you fought it / I swore we’d get through it.” 

It’s a twirling soprano over shuffling percussion, a counter to the otherwise leading male voice on Paper Void’s new track, "Just Waiting." These feminine vocals are layered, as if they’ve been replayed over and over, an echo drudged up while looking back at an unraveling relationship. For this song, and the album in general, the women oscillate between a Corrine Bailey Rae sweet lilt, and a more soulful high-octave reach (courtesy of Ella Cooley and Hannah Martinson). Their counterpart, Alberto Guzmán, stays on a more murmuring level, as "Just Waiting" begins its lackadaisical fade after a brass-backed swell. Guzman muses, “So I walk the open road / Still waiting … With this time that’s passing by / Figure’s time to say goodbye.” The song's vocalists rise and fall around one another, a call and response that takes a cue from jazz and the neo-soul that took root with '90s R&B. "Just Waiting" is a taste of its overarching album, I N C R E M E N T S, whose name and font style references the initial inspiration behind their group title. 

In an interview with The Stanford Daily, founding member Gavin Leeper (who stepped into a producer role for I N C R E M E N T S) noted the importance of space in Japanese calligraphy. The negative, or white space, on a page held an equal importance as what was being written, and it was this balance—of the fragile and paper-thin, juxtaposed with the ever-stretching possibility and indeterminate shape of a vacuum—that became Paper Void’s foundational mantra. The eleven-piece ensemble on their latest album has an electric energy, feeding off one another's every move and whim as they tack on elements of soft-rock and hip-hop to their multi-dimensional genre. One of the tenets of jazz is improvisation, or at least spurts of seemingly unstructured instrumentation, which Paper Void masters. And still, their songs have a modern touch and relatable emotional current. 

Take "Differently," whose underlying beat has the ease of a slow-moving Sunday as a rap pulses at the forefront. It's a track straddled somewhere between urban rhythm and blues and the serene interludes of a sub-level, tapestry-adorned bar throwing back to 1940’s cool jazz. “I’ve been thinking that it’s infinite / My mind is often numb / But if you’re thinking about tomorrow, man / Tomorrow never comes,” we hear at a cool-headed but quick pace, followed by a warning against beaten-path traps with, “There’s more wisdom in the big dipper than six figures.” The song continues as an ode to classic hip-hop and soothing instrumentation. There’s something about a brass section, a trumpet solo and saxophone (both alto and tenor), that elicits a visceral response. This sort of music that has a meditative effect, the melody keeping you fully invested. Paper Void is making their own mold, and as I N C R E M E N T S suggests, they’ll continually be adding new styles and arrangements to their work—not concerned so much with the benchmarks they reach, but the space that lets them improvise in between.