Paper Aeroplanes - Little Letters (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
PAPER Aeroplanes have delivered their most complete and satisfying album to date with third offering, Little Letters.
By opting for a more full band sound, the Welsh duo – Sarah Howells and Richard Llewellyn – have opened up their music to a wider listener base, combining some emotional ballads with some power pop, folk-tinged moments to savour.
Little Letters offers a wonderful showcase of their sound both in terms of Howells’ enchanting vocals and their intricate instrumental layering.
Howells says of the songs: “This album is about personal experiences in relationships and the inner, mostly hidden lives of people, as opposed to what you see on the surface. My main aim when writing is to express something that I would normally find hard to put into words. It’s definitely a cathartic experience.”
Highlights abound. When The Windows Shook opens the album in robust fashion, with a rock vibe attached to the gutsy guitar riffs and the edgy vocals. The song was inspired by three tragedies that took place in Sarah’s hometown of Milford Haven. Primarily, in 1994, when an explosion at one of the local refineries caused the windows to shake and scared the life out of the singer (then aged six). But also the Sea Empress oil spill disaster of 1996 and another Chevron Refinery explosion in 2011 which claimed the lives of four people.
In contrast, there’s a dusky folk vibe attached to the bittersweet, achingly poignant Singing To Elvis, which finds Howells’ vocals at their most tender and lovely over the chorus.
On an even more stripped down vibe is the gentle Fable, which beguiles before setting the listener up to another firm highlight, title track Little Letters, which slow-builds to a brilliant finale. If anything, this contains hints of acts such as Bat For Lashes. And the chorus is such that it’ll leave you pining for more, especially once the strings embellish proceedings in an almost angular fashion.
Multiple Love, the track that follows, thrives from its mix of sombre piano chords and fragile vocals (again underlining Paper Aeroplanes’ ability to deliver a meaningful ballad). The song is about waiting for the right person as opposed to ‘making do’.
Palm of Your Hand has a more robust folk-rock sound, mixing guitars and drums and violins to stirring effect, and expertly raising the tempo at just the right time, while Sleeper Train – which was written while Sarah was travelling from Xi’an to Beijing in China – tells a disarmingly sweet tale of falling for someone in the UK via text message while travelling.
Circus, meanwhile, rounds off the album with a brutally honest track about making music for a living and some of the frustrations that come with it (“lately I’m sick of this circus”). It’s delivered in brooding fashion, the folky guitars assuming a darker tone in tandem with the well-realised piano.
But then everything about this album screams quality and it’s little surprise to find that Paper Aeroplanes have also employed a helping hand from a host of top musicians, including John Parker on double bass (of Nizlopi fame) and percussionist Martin Ditcham (Everything But The Girl).
Trust us, you’ll enjoy opening these Little Letters.
Download picks: Little Letters, When The Windows Shook, Singing To Elvis, Circus, Multiple Love, Palm of Your Hand