Live Review: Paper Aeroplanes

Jackson Caines 21 May 2013

Paper Aeroplanes + Farao

The Junction, Cambridge

Paper Aeroplanes are a band that have to be seen live to be truly appreciated. Hailing from West Wales, singer/guitarists Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn have released three albums since their formation in 2009, with their latest offering, Little Letters, in stores this month. Though their discography marks them out as undeniable songwriting talents, their production tends to be a bit squeaky clean for my taste and I arrived at the Junction with cautious expectations. Fortunately, you can’t see Paper Aeroplanes live without being completely won over by their seemingly effortless knack for warm, melodic pop.

First, though, a word about the support act, Farao (with whom you can read a TCS interview here). The London-based Norwegian singer-songwriter has been causing quite a stir on music blogs over the last few months, and last night it wasn’t hard to see why. Backed only by her acoustic guitar, Farao’s impressive musicianship was on full show, her stirring vocals matched by some mean guitar skills. Her debut EP is set for release in September; in the meantime, check out her song ‘Forces’ to see what all the fuss is about.

A hard act to follow, then, but Paper Aeroplanes weren’t about to let themselves be outdone by their young support act. From the off, they served up a generous helping of songwriting gold, with not one dud in the entire set. I was left with the impression that Howells and Llewellyn could churn out these perfectly-crafted indie-folk gems in their sleep. Central to their live sound is the inspired use of double bass, which alternated tirelessly between atmospheric bowed melodies and heavier plucked lines to rival any electric bass. Llewellyn’s lead guitar-playing, meanwhile, was a joy, especially when his finely textured lines gave the songs an alt. country twang reminiscent of Ryan Adams.

Admittedly, Paper Aeroplanes’ instincts lean towards the earnest and twee at times. Their lyrics are not always of the same calibre as the music, particularly on ditties like ‘My First Love’. The new album seems like a move in the right direction, though, and its title track ‘Little Letters’ was one of the night’s highlights, its dark, driving chorus providing their sound with that much-needed edge. Howells’s voice, which can seem a little too perfect on their recordings, was on top form throughout the night, and, despite her Welsh origins, she reminded me more than once of The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler.

It’ll be interesting to see how Paper Aeroplanes develop and whether they manage to break through to a larger audience. They’re in an awkward spot commercially – not experimental enough to appeal to fans of the Pitchfork-beloved dream-pop groups, but far too talented to compete in the mainstream. Whatever happens, catch them live while you can, because they are irresistible.

Jackson Caines