REVIEW: Jerry Paper - Toon Time Raw!

Kelly Kirwan

Like most spiritual figures, Jerry Paper is elusive. An identity carved out from splintering synth-pop arrangements and an affinity for the surreal, delivered with a single raised eyebrow. Silly shaking hands with the serious. But, I’ve read the stone tablet of Jerry Paper’s genesis and am able to shed some light on his backstory.

Jerry Paper, without flower garlands resting on his crown and silk robes draped across his body, is Brooklyn-dweller Lucas Nathan, formerly galavanting about the music scene as Zonotope. Nathan is a scholar, a New School alum whose studies were an intersection of philosophy and music through a sociological lens. It’s that pull of the spiritual experience, of feelings that press beyond what we’re able to express verbally, that fuels Jerry Paper. His music is an unassuming ceremony—a chance to reach a higher plane, see the fabric of existence with our third-eye, or even catch a quick laugh. Jerry Paper would never describe himself as a deity, but perhaps a modern-day medicine man, whose latest album is our newest awakening. 

Toon Time Raw! is a series of fables, whose melodies are lush with a jazzy feel, courtesy of Canadian multi-genre boppers BadBadNotGood and their brassy, full-bodied touch. The album revolves around the lives of cartoon characters—as if Jerry Paper funneled everyday life as we know it into a world that's part storybook, part A Midsummer Night's Dream. It’s a string of sunny beats delivered with Paper’s signature deep pitch and the utmost sincerity, even as it veers into absurdist theater (a prime example: a cow's torrid affair with a goateed shark). Other songs seem to bop around in terms of style. There’s “Gracie II,” which begins with an acoustic, vaguely harpsichord-sounding strum, whose solo interludes add an island feel. When the instrumentals are in full swing, it carries that sway of heartbroken soul—I imagine a Sadie Hawkins-inspired dance, the crowd swaying slowly with their partners, as Paper forlornly croons, “Ooh, Gracie, I love you,” as Gracie dances with someone else.

Then, there’s "Shouldn’t You Be Laughing?" which highlights elements of jazz with a sparse synth accompaniment. Like much of the album, it feels as if Jerry Paper is telling us a story of lands and people far from what we know, but whose feelings we understand. In this case, it’s Frank the frog, who’s “all fucked up now ... and might as well just croak.” But Paper, as the narrator, remains the voice of reason and lightheartedness, posing the questions between sax solos, “If life is just a joke / Shouldn’t you be laughing?” It’s a sweetly sad song, that only feels ridiculous when you try and explain the idea of a depressed frog to someone that hasn’t experienced the track firsthand—which seems to be the lesson Jerry Paper’s spinning.

Another top-notch song off the album is the warm, Brazilian inspired “Elastic Last Act,” with its soft samba touch that feels right at home on summer nights. Paper’s voice is magnetic, a low, wise pitch that never pushes to hard. Toon Time Raw! is overflowing with low-key ditties, a foray into Jerry Paper’s ritual that meshes philosophy and stand-up, to create, above all, an experience.