One thing is certain: Lost in all these misunderstandings is the fact that the pAper chAse's recordings (all produced by Congleton, who's done the same for Baboon and Budapest One, among others) have, more often than not, been about songs rather than the way the band plays them. If listeners just pay attention--which is, admittedly, asking quite a bit these days--what they'll find isn't strange or bizarre or whatever. In many ways, the songs on Young Bodies or cntrl-alt-delete-u are more straightforward, more pure, than just about anything out there; think the sensibility of Tom Waits focused through a slightly different lens. On Hide the Kitchen Knives, released by Washington, D.C.-based Beatville Records in the United States and Southern UK overseas, that aspect of the band is purposely clearer than ever.
"I wanted everything to be more direct, and I wanted it to be more about the lyrics," Congleton says. "And everybody in the band, we were all there at that time, too. We all sort of gravitated to really respecting the whole singer-songwriter thing a little bit more and, like, who cares about baffling people with your playing ability? That's wonderful, and there is a definite place for that, and we still hold that in our hearts somewhere. But for the most part, we just kind of matured into the point that the more powerful thing is moving somebody with the song. I think that has to do with growing older and getting mature. The first 10 years of your life you learn which notes to play. The rest of your life you learn what notes not to play. And I'm pretty sure we'll always be considered a weird"--he leans forward, twists his face up some and says the word again, this time between air quotes--"band. But I would like for us to be respected as a band that actually could write songs that moved people at the same time."
"It's nice to have other people think that we're experimental and avant-garde," Armstrong says, continuing the train of thought. "But to us, they're just songs."
"I don't think I have ever come in there and said, 'This is gonna be so weird!'" Congleton adds, and they both laugh. "It's a lot more powerful--and this started happening with Young Bodies--going on tour and meeting these people that had never met us before, but were really excited because the album really meant something to them."
Recorded mostly in the room we're sitting in, Hide the Kitchen Knives should mean more things to more people because it revolves around an idea almost everyone can relate to in some way: relationships (with parents, brothers or sisters, wives and husbands, yourself, whoever) and their effects, both good and bad. Given the album's title and some of the imagery (baseball bats figure heavily into the proceedings), it's possible, if not probable, that many listeners will miss the point the first time through, that they'll assume, as Congleton says, "it must be this sort of grisly tale of murder and deceit." For example: "I'm Gonna Spend the Rest of My Life Lying" comes off, at first, as exactly the kind of tale Congleton refers to, with its ominous opening march of piano and sax and red-faced warnings ("You better mind your P's and Q's/You better thank your lucky stars"). But listen again, and you'll hear what Congleton was trying to say in the first place: It's really about losing yourself in your work, to the detriment of everything around you. "So did you think I'm very distant?" he sings. "It's good to know you feel the same."