PAWS – ‘Your Church On My Bonfire’

By Andy Joice

Progression and evolution of sound is an important factor if you’re looking to make it as a band. It’s all good having that distinctive sound, but unless you’re able to adapt and evolve over time, the likelihood is that it’ll start to become stale. Luckily for Glaswegian trio PAWS, they’ve molded what was a post-grunge sound into something more refined, while still maintaining that kick.

In the three years since their last full-length release, PAWS have suffered through breakdowns in relationships, line up changes, and heart-breaking losses, alongside their global tours with Frightened Rabbit, The Cribs, Death Cab For Cutie, and Japanese Breakfast. But instead of letting the negative things affect them, they embraced the changes and channeled it into a more developed, significantly more open sound, culminating in their new record ‘Your Church On My Bonfire’.

While 2016’s ‘No Grace’, produced by Mark Hoppus, saw the trio at their most minimalist with instruments taking the forefront, ‘Your Church On My Bonfire’ is laid bare and dripping with sentimentality and brutal honesty. With songwriter Phillip Taylor at his most tender, it intimately addresses regret, loss, death, forgiveness, and mental health with candour. “This record documents the last three years of my life,” states Taylor, and it’s clear even on the first listen what a truly troubling period he’s been through.

Produced by Frightened Rabbits’ Andy Monaghan, it’s fair to say there is an element of his band within ‘You Church On My Bonfire’. That’s not at all a bad thing. There’s less of a reliance on fuzzy instruments to bear the weight of the tracks and a much cleaner, folkier sound allows the lyrics to be more prominent, more defined.

This is clear from the outset, as ‘What We Want’ opens to gentle strings with the line “he was here and now he’s gone”. An introspective look at his relationship with his father after his passing, Taylor delicately comes to terms with their difficult relationship, ultimately wishing him safe passage to the next life.

Hindsight is a key motif throughout ‘Your Church On My Bonfire’ and plays a big part as a cue throughout most of the record. The first single, ‘Not Enough’, reflects on a failing relationship, while ‘The Watering Hole’ echoes similar sentiments, albeit from a slightly less cynical perspective. Containing one of the catchiest choruses within the album, there’s a hint of Michael Stipe in Taylor’s delivery and with a driving bass line and fantastically REM guitar, it would be easy to mistake it for theirs were it not for Taylor’s strong accent.

While there are a few songs that are gentle to the point of breaking, they take different forms. There’s a fragility throughout ‘Arachnids’, akin to Elliott Smith. Opening with a deep sigh, it’s clear it’s not going to be uplifting. Seemingly contemplative, peppered with longs strains of violins and set entirely in a minor key, it’s downtrodden and looks at Taylor’s own personal demons.

In contrast, ‘The Slow Sprint’ is an uplifting piece about mental health and offers an outstretched hand to any lost soul. Featuring vocals from Meredith Godreau of Gregory and the Hawk, Godreau and Taylor create soothing harmonies accompanied by delicate melodies. With a chorus containing “if you’re lost, you can be found”, it’s clear the intent is to remind people that things get better – sometimes you just need a little help.

Closing the album is ‘Not Goodbye (See You Later)’, perhaps the moodiest track on the record. Coming in at just shy of thirteen minutes, it’s angsty, fraught, and melodious. With some of the darkest lyrics within the first few minutes, it contains a spoken-word piece that’s as mesmerising as it is nihilistic. The rhythms and melodies rise before gradually falling in what can only be described as an unusually epic piece of alternative music composition.

This isn’t necessarily an album you’ll immediately connect with, perhaps taking six, eight or even eleven listens before it starts to soak under your skin. Melodies and lyrics will start bouncing around, as if memories from a dream, lurking underneath in a subtle way. From the drum patterns in ‘Not Goodbye (See You Later)’, to the line “faceless lurkers run this town” from the heartbreaking ‘Anything Worse’, it’s near impossible not to inadvertently absorb all the subtleties within ‘Your Church On My Bonfire’. The deeper you listen, the more it attaches itself to you.

This record hits at an emotional level. Loss, grief, despair; it’s something everyone has experienced. The power of PAWS and Taylor’s writing is that they manage to articulate all those feelings so eloquently that it can’t help but leave its fingerprints all over you.

ANDY JOICE

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