ALBUM: Paper airplane
BAND: marshall holland
reviewed by NADJA DEE
Artwork by Marshall Holland
Mystery Lawn Music
Musicians: Marshall Holland (All instruments and vocals)
All songs written, performed and recorded by Marshall Holland, BMI.
Except track 7 written by Michael R. Brooks, BMI
Produced by Marshall Holland and Michael R. Brooks
Mastered by Myles Boisen
Headless Buddha Mastering Lab, Oakland, CA
This album was released 3 days before my birthday, and what a gift! Seriously. As a self-proclaimed Purveyor of Power Pop, I listen to a lot of albums for review. Most of them self-produced by the band, and probably most of them recorded at a home studio. It is 2020 of course and unless you're on the front lines, you've been stuck at home for most of this year. This gives any artist time to write, record and release music.
It's no surprise that not every album sounds good. Unless you're Ducky Carlisle or a legend in the music community, like Ric Ocasek, you're flying by the seat of your home studio Producer's pants. Most of the time, the albums are good enough, decently produced. Some need more adjustment on my home sound system or car stereo than others. But, every now and then you get an album that's superbly produced. Paper Airplane is one of those albums. It sounds MAGNIFICENT! If this album were an actual paper airplane, it's creases are sharply folded, edges perfectly creased, flaps angled correctly and it's ready for takeoff. However, you need to put the paper airplane in the hands of a skilled pilot. After several listens to this Paper Airplane, Marshall Holland is just the person you want.
The World Record Paper Aircraft Flight is 226 feet 10 inches
KEY to this album
(Hint: The closer to center white, the more Power Pop)
Mix of Power Pop, Sesame Street, Partridge Family, Elvis Costello, America/70's music and Aimee Mann
(Wired: The Paper Airplane Guy (YouTube)
“The farthest flight by a paper aircraft is 69.14 meters (226 feet 10 inches), achieved by Joe Ayoob and aircraft designer John M. Collins (both USA), at McClellan Air Force Base, in North Highlands, California, USA on 26 February 2012.
If Paper Airplane hits you like it did me, please be wearing eye protection. All kidding aside, if you listen to the entire album you will get a cool breeze of the following:
Power Pop music (And genre blends)
A bit of acousticly driven Aimee Mann (#3, #5 & #7)
Some retro 70's Partridge Family vibes (#2)
Elvis Costello sounds and singing (#6)
America the Band (Gerry Beckley style)
Sesame Street light happiness
That's really the best summary of Marshall Holldand's album in a nutshell.
I listen to albums for review on headphones, over my speaker system at home and in my car. I really like listening to albums in my car, it gives me a different take on the songs when I'm not focusing on the song with a laser focus like I do at home. When I'm driving, paying attention to the road, my brain is in another space, a more open, absorbent sponge like space that allows me to access other memories. Like, wait, what does this song or chord structure remind me of...OK I got it.
It's like trying to force yourself to find a memory, instead of just let it come to you after you stop thinking about it. That's what listening to my music in my car does for me. But there's also one other thing the car stereo makes me realize: the quality of the mix and overall production.
I need to adjust my sound system on most albums. Sometimes there's not enough bass, or sometimes I can't hear the vocals enough. Or, in the worst case scenarios, it sounds muddy. NOT THIS ALBUM! There was ZERO EQ adjustment needed on Paper Airplane. The produciton values are some of the best I've ever heard on a sound recording produced by the artist at home. If you told me that Geoff Emerick produced this album, I would believe it. (Sadly, we lost Mr. Emerick in October 2018) so I know it couldn't be true.
(George Martin (L) Geoff Emerick (R)
Track #1 Our Fate
The album starts off with Track #1 Our Fate, which has an infectious drum beat, the kind of beat you'd get if you took equal parts of The GoGo's, The Knack and The Wonder's and tossed them into a blender!
Our Fate sets the scene, you're in for a driving romp, a journey that will smoothly glide you along like a well folded paper airplane.
I'm positive Marshall Holland doesn't know about my favorite local Seattle Power Pop band, The Pop Cycle, but if he did he would realize that these two artists have a lot in common. Good songwriting, powerful performances but even more than that, the chorus of Our Fate is eerily similar to The Pop Cycle's song Boyfriend.
The songs aren't clones of each other, but they certainly share the same style of repeating chorus, with Marshall Holland chanting "Our fate, our fate," and The Pop Cycle singing "My face, my face."
The Pop cycle
Track #2 Boyfriend
Track #2 When The Rain Comes has already received praise from both The Rodney Bingenheimer Show and The Mike Rogers Show (Love FM Japan), and it's well deserved. Track #2 immediately takes the listener into another direction, it's more a song that glides along with a keyboard sound that could have been sampled from The Partridge Family.
If you know anything about the mechanics of a paper airplane, it starts with a thrust, a burst of energy to get it going, like the engine behind the music in Our Fate. But then the plane takes up the properties of lift and floats along, hence the name glider. Song #2 is the glider part of this particular Paper Airplane.
Track #2 When The Rain Comes
Track #3 A Hand Holds A Bird and Track #7 I'm Checking Out threw me for a little bit of a loop because they sound like lost Aimee Mann tracks. The songwriting style, the vocal phrasing and even Marshall's voice has very strong Aimee Mann vocal qualities. Many of my favorite singers have a higher singing range, but without going falsetto. It feels like Marshall Holland's vocal range is high, while Aimee Mann has a lower singing range, so their voices sound very close to my ears. If you couple that with the strumming acoustic guitar, like he does in A Hand Holds A Bird (Another nod to the Paper Airplane theme) you get pretty close to Aimee's post Til Tuesday, pre-Magnolia solo era.
That is meant to be high praise.
Track #3 A Hand Holds A Bird
Track #7 I'm Checking Out
Track #4 Waiting For That Peace And Love is a song that will make you ask yourself, "Do you see the glass as half full or half empty?" By that, I mean, you will reveal a lot about yourself by how you tell others about this song; Do you focus on the "Waiting For That Peace and Love," or do you recite the "Waiting For The End Of The World" line? Maybe both, as this album is as full of hope as it is despair. I choose the former since Mr. Holland chose to name the song for it's more hopeful aspects. But this is a song for the times, the quarantine days and a new world that took Adam Schlesinger from us.
Track #4 Waiting For That Peace And Love
Official video for Waiting For Peace And Love
Waiting For That Peace And Love has it's own music video, a video which strongly reminded me of MTV's first aired video, Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles (August 1, 1981). I'm checking out is a good song, it borders on Prog Rock at times and if the song's guilty of anything, it's an overuse of the voice modulation or phase effect. But it's another solid song from Marshall Holland. I'm waiting too, can we speed up the peace and love part of the program?
Track #5 Don't Do It took me back to a happy Sesame Street ditty, with it's dancing piano riff and if the lyrics weren't so dire, I would think it could make the next Children's Television compliation.
Track #5 Don't Do It
Unofficial match up of Sesame Street Opening to Don't Do It
Then Track #6 She Buys A Dress (To Match With Her Pink Belt) & Track #10 Whatcha Gonna Do both delve into that familiar Elvis Costello territory. You know the one, where bands who are post 1980's write and record Power Pop songs that have high energy, rock and roll energy, but intelligent energy. (Not frat boy energy). It can be summed up in the 1977 Saturday Night Live performance when Elvis Costello stopped playing "Less Than Zero" 15 seconds into the song and performed "Radio, Radio," a song that was banned by NBC.
It's the smart kids who tell the jocks to "F-Off!" type of energy. I've heard it used by Wes Hollywood, Eric Barao and a bunch of other great Power Pop artists making music today. (Sadly, it's the kind of music that Mr. Costello no longer writes). Note: Elvis Costello was banned from SNL for 10 years, but came back to re-perform Radio Radio with The Beastie Boys as his backing band. Classic retribution.
Track #6 She Buys A Dress (To Match With Her Pink Belt)
Which brings us to the title Track #8 Paper Airplane on Paper Airplane. It's another smooth, gliding song, the type of song that takes one back to a cool fall day with bands like America or what was once referred to as "adult contemporary." I would say the same thing about Track #9 Look Into My Eyes.
Track #8 Paper Airplane
Official Video for Paper Airplane by Marshall Holland
At 3:50 in the Paper Airplane song, you can hear a nod to The Fifth Dimension's song Up, Up and Away.
Up, Up & Away (Fifth Dimension)
Fifth Dimension's Up, Up & Away (1967)
Track #9 Look Into My Eyes
All in all, it's another album that's perfect for 2020. It's got songs and videos about wearing masks and breathing. There's so much on everyone's mind this year, with the pandemic, the BLM movement and the election.
I especially love the song Whatcha Gonna Do which is an obvious critique of our current POTUS. Talking about calling the FBI and locking "you" up in a cell.
Whatcha gonna do now?
Whatcha gonna say now?
Whatcha gonna do for us
If you wanna make it great again?
Track #10 Whatcha Gonna Do
(TIP: Skip this part if you want to go past a personal story rant. Apologies in advance)
SKIP THE "FIRE RANT" STARTING HERE
You see, that's another thing I can't help but point out. When I do an album review, I try to focus on the music, not the personality of the person making the music. But it's 2020, we have access to our celebrities, we have a window into the lives of the entertainers. Sometimes, they air their dirty laundry themselves, sometimes they dig their own graves without any help from us.
There are a few artists, even ones in the Power Pop community, who have shared views that I cannot look past. So, it was a pleasant surprise to find out that not only is Marshall Holland a talented musician, who's written one of the best albums of 2020, but he's also a really cool person who has great values and open acceptance.
Recently, I've been getting a lot of FaceBook friend requests (30 friend requests in one day is unusual). The thing is, you never know who these people really are, you never know a person's true agenda. Sure, there's ways to filter a complete stranger out before you give them that friend status. You can check to see what friends you have in common, you can take a look at their posts, but you're never 100% sure what type of "friend" you're making until you elevate them to "friend status."
And I think, while it's unfair and a double standard, that females/female identified people get more creeps in the land of social media, we need to be more careful of strangers.
None of that should matter when you're doing an album review. Writing a review on an album by Charles Mansion (Yes, he was a musician) shouldn't be any different than reviewing an album by Elton John. It should be about the music, right? But I can't separate the two anymore. When I find out certain aspects about a person that would be considered heinous qualities to most sane individuals, it affects my view of the music.
My point is that when I got this album by Marshall Holland, and then posted a personal status update on my page (Once again outing myself as trans), he was one of the first people to openly support me. It felt great to know that this music I had been studying for this review came from someone I would respect as a person, a person I could be friends with in real life.
In 2020, in this day and age, that's saying something. You see, LGBTQ people can sense the difference between tolerance and acceptance. I know that there may be a few folks here who have found out I'm trans and because they aren't dating me, or friends with me IRL they don't have a problem with me. They tolerate me.
But I also know acceptance when I see it and believe me, there's a huge difference. It's the same with race and racism. Ask any person of color if they can tell the difference betwen people who tolerate racial diversity and people who accept them as equals and I guarantee you, they will say 'HELL YES!"
"FIRE RANT" ENDS HERE
I'm happy to report that the album ends with a soft landing, Track #11 A Dream Away, is just like it's title sounds, a dream. That's the beauty about a paper airplane, it rarely ends with a loud violent explosion. A paper airplane, if built and flown correctly, ends with a soft, smooth landing, making the lightest noise upon touching ground.
(GIF by Hannah Boydstun)
Paper Airplane is an album that will speak to you on many levels. The music sounds like it had an analog budget of a million dollars, not a home recorded project made during the quarantine. And, if you're like me, you'll be singing along to the songs after the 2nd listen.
YES, it's that good.
It's pretty darn Power Poppy too, although like most albums released in the last few decades, it's a mix of genres. (Notice a lot of "light colored color wheel dots" but no white ones? That means it's got a lot of Power Pop but it's not the soundtrack to That Thing You Do!)
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DISCLAIMER: HOP ON POWER POP doesn't give stars, a grade or any sort of quantifiable rating. What HOP ON POWER POP does is let you know what H.O.P.P. thought of the music by the band at this particular time. If an album isn't to our liking or fitting into the Power Pop genre enough, we simply won't review it.
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