Motion Picture – A Paper Gift

Motion Picture
A Paper Gift

I get the sense from A Paper Gift that much of the references here are lost on me. It’s obvious that Eric Ostermeier, the creative force behind Motion Picture, is a smart or at least culturally savvy man. On this release, he continues his links between film and music started on the band’s previous two albums. So if you don’t know that “Alida” is a reference to Alida Valli’s performance in the 1949 film The Third Man, you’re not the only one. Even the cover is a photograph of film actress Carroll Baker taken in 1953.

Although the album would likely be better appreciated by people who do get the references, such an understanding is not required. Ostermeier and his backing musicians have put together 11 lovely and lush songs that flirt with pop and slow-core aesthetics. Although Ostermeier’s deep and rich vocals and guitar form the backbone of these songs, they are filled out by an infusion of strings, horns, and more on each song.

The album is resplendent in lush orchestration tied together by Ostermeier’s lush vocals, from the lovely lilting sounds of the title track to the gorgeous instrumentation of “A Wink and Curtsy.” The aforementioned “Alida” brings to mind the playful and simple feel of the 1940’s, and here Ostermeier resembles the more experimentally minded Momus. The strings add a more orchestrated feel to the rich “Me In Your Past Tense.” “And all the restless boys felt / this was just a staged rehearsal / but all the joy at the margin / must yield to the sadness within,” Ostermeier croons on the delightfully soft and rich “A Girl’s Last Daydream.”

While it’s easy to get lost in the lush arrangements and Ostermeier’s vocals, it’s important to remember that the basis of Motion Picture’s music is pop. “The First Name on Your Dance Card,” for example, has a bit of a slowed down and Americanized Belle & Sebastian feel. And the horns and playful, bouncy feel to “Twisting the Apple Stem” evokes a comfortable Elephant 6 feel. Unfortunately, the poppy nature of a song like “Winter, 1988” takes away from the more slow-core, contemplative feel and results in a song that just feels slow. And the closer, “Promising Young Actress,” uses electric guitar to establish a more up-beat feel.

Obviously, Ostermeier is an intelligent man, and he’s created a very intelligent album. Its biggest flaw is that it may get a bit mired down in that intelligent and restrained feel. The pace varies very slightly among these songs, instead maintaining a lofty, slightly unapproachable feel. That only slightly hurts the music here, however, and repeated listens will bring out the brilliance of these calm and coolly rich, lush works.