Paper Airplane Pilots – Welcome to the Drunk Tank EP

Paper Airplane Pilots
Welcome to the Drunk Tank EP

If you’re as unimpressed as I am with the “clever” pun contained in the name of this EP, you’d probably be wise to set the expectation bar rather low for this Chicago quartet. After all, no band who would give their debut EP such a self-consciously, intentionally “smart” name could possibly have any musical merit. (Ain’t judging things prematurely grand? I suggest it for albums as well as the following: movies, books, and people.) Of course, most of the time you’ll be wrong (with the possible exception of people, who are rather predictable), as I was with this album. Of course, it’s still a ridiculous album title.

The first track off of the seven-song EP takes a decidedly Beck-ish turn. A strummy acoustic guitar plays games with a modest violin as singer Jeremiah Wallis sings easily over big, confident chord changes. Not a bad start. From there, the band’s lo-fi indie-pop roots kick in big time. “She’s a Liquid” is all charred chords and wooing background vocals, a la Superchunk. “Century Kid” is pretty straight up – buzzing power chords and handclaps and more “ah ahhhh” backups.

Things get a little misguided on “Circus Peanuts.” To the band’s credit, they get away with an absurdly stoopid keyboard line, an equally goofy bassline, and a bike horn. The problem is, their press release says they’re choosing from a catalog of over 200 songs, and if “Circus Peanuts” is in the top seven, run for cover. The unlisted track, unexplainably placed at number five, is one of the album’s best. More fuzzy noise chords and 60’s radio pop, only with a bit more force and conviction than before. “Strawberry Breeze” sees the return of the acoustic guitar, and it manages to rhyme “strawberry breeze” with “mulberry trees.” Of course, it’s throwback sugar piled on high, lyrics and all, but it does occasionally tire. The last track, “Exist You,” loves Bob Pollard nearly to death, which of course isn’t really a bad thing. Even for such a shameless derivation, it’s pretty catchy.

Here’s how things stack up – they’re not as weird as Beck, not as catchy as Guided by Voices, not as comically whimsical as Pavement, and not nearly as violent as Archers of Loaf. Still, the Paper Airplane Pilots do a pretty decent job with lo-fi pop. Their shortcomings come with lyrics and shameless puns – right down to the band name – but they more than make up for it with some quality songs.