Has Roo Panes created this decade’s finest folk with Paperweights?

PaperweightsRoo Panes fell into a river as a child, earning him the nickname of a similarly unfortunate Winnie-the-Pooh character. He grew up playing classical music in Dorset, but got bored of reading from sheet music, and discovered a love of improvisation. He crafts tender folk songs with a rich, husky tenor. He is a male model. And as soon as the din of that fire alarm currently going off in your reproductive organs has died down, you should listen to his new album, Paperweights. Because, to top it off, he may also be responsible for the finest folk album of the decade.

In the post-Mumford landscape that we find ourselves in, the notion of folk authenticity has been stretched to breaking point, and all accompanying signifiers have bowed with it: acoustic guitars, lyrics about being taken home (get a taxi pal), earnest white men in hats. It's all been sold off to companies who put nothing back into the world except an artificial nostalgia for drinking cider over ice; which is to say, nostalgia for a past that never took place. "The Original" has a similar effect upon listening, and yet, in Panes' hands, it taps into something real, some day at the beach that you probably just forgot about because nothing has made you feel that way since. It's perfect in a way that you can't fluke, and no amount of sponsorship deals with Burberry can sully that.

Panes is reticent about naming influences in interviews, or else claims he has none, though if he's unfamiliar with Nick Drake's work, I'd sure like to be the one who lends him Bryter Layter. Nonetheless, the 27-year-old commands such a wealth of ideas within his songs that the comparison serves simply to distinguish him from his peers, rather than diminish him from his ancestors. The title track builds to a whirling eddy of piano, strings and cymbal rises, and like a movie with a great twist, it's no sooner finished than I need to hear it again to make sense of what just happened.

"Summer Thunder" concludes the album's thematic obsession with storms and the sea, and notes a pattern of its own: "How many times must lightning strike in the same place till you'll call it trouble?" he asks over and over, before breaking out his stadium voice to announce another well-worn sentiment: "It's time to let it go." What perhaps what makes this album so special, though, is that it doesn't rely on the bells and whistles that have come to litter the Pyramid Stage of late, but rather has the audacity to put the songs front and centre, where their quality has nowhere to hide. Turns out it's something that was on Panes' mind a lot during the recording, calling it a record "about freedom, risk, vulnerability, moving on and letting go, lifting the paperweight so to speak..." At every step, there is a choice between adventure and comfort, between shelter and progress. And if one can find the courage to step out into that storm, to brave the elements anyway? "You'll feel that you're marooned upon that sunny isle instead." That's exactly how I feel when I put this record on, looking out across the sky as the corporate banjo shitstorm passes on the horizon.

Release: 4th March 2016, CRC Music Group


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