Artist: Gym Class Heroes
Album: The Papercut Chronicles II
Label: Decaydance/Fueled By Ramen
It’s been some time since Gym Class Heroes looked in on us. Their last album The Quilt was released in 2008, with the members pursuing individual projects in the intervening years. The break certainly hasn’t done them any harm, as the long-awaited Papercut Chronicles II displays all the cool self-assurance and edge one has come to associate with the band. It’s a crusading and compelling record founded on the versatile marriage of numerous genres, all executed with artistic flair.
“ZA Intro” is a spoken word intro, in which an electronic disembodied voice (in the style of Stephen Hawkings) delivers an opening monologue over a sharp, grinding swagger of rhythm. “Martyrial Girls” opens the record proper with a vivacious display from the outset. A crisp guitar solos obliviously over a rumbling hip hop tremor. Tough and forceful, the sound is scaled back and even a touch muted at times but hints at malevolence, emphasised by the ominous guitar line that thunders underneath throughout. The verses focus on building flow and momentum, keeping the instrumentation steady until the music becomes rawer and more pervasive in the chorus.
“Life Goes On,” which features Oh Land, is softer and more in the vein of a jazzed-up love song. It’s anchored by a thorough and resounding beat but the sound is gentler and more loving. Rap gives way to clean singing in the chorus, which sounds a little awkward at first and distils momentum somewhat, but gives the song as a whole a more wholesome and accessible edge. “Stereo Hearts” features Adam Levine of Maroon 5 on guest vocals. It was released as the first single off the album in June and has already scored highly on the chart fronts. It’s a deceptive song and something of a grower – Levine’s presence threatens at first to plunge the track into a saccharine rut, but this is remedied when the verses begin proper. They make the song murkier, channelling a down ‘n’ dirty beat and energetic vocals atop a vivid backing of musical thrills. It’s far catchier by the time the chorus rolls around and any excess is well trimmed as the song progresses.
“Solo Discotheque (Whiskey Bitness)” is an instant standout. It’s sultry and quietly intoxicating, with a delicious bass line and a heady relentless pace that keeps anticipation building throughout. The chorus uses clean singing to up the ante and alter the shadowy mood, going for a more verbose swell of sound and muted crescendo of instruments. The guitar work is notable here. There’s an echoing effect which gives the track a bigger, exhilarating sound, and a sublime solo that chews up the entire latter half. This segues into an equally impressive bass solo which in turn spills over into “Holy Horseshit, Batman.” The stellar name isn’t the only noteworthy aspect, either. A profound and intensive track, the sound on this is so concentrated it can’t but sweep you up. The guitars and bass lie low and the percussion is quite simple, allowing for maximum focus on the terse and thought-provoking lyrics. The chorus swells and has a more overt, personal perspective. It doesn’t drench everything in emotion but it feels more honest and rawer and affords the song a niche and veneer of truth. A resurgent guitar solo surfaces, completely at odds with its deadened surroundings, though it acts as a spark of flair in the midst of everything.
“Nil-Nil Draw” courts an invigorating, if slightly inquisitive, sound at first before harmonising this touch of anarchy for a sweeping and layered proclamation in the chorus. It rages in a restrained way, if that’s possible – without being overbearingly loud or emphatic, it still manages to blaze quite a memorable trail. “The Fighter,” with guest star Ryan Tedder, is in marked contrast to the driven songs that populate the album. A piano stars throughout, creating a fresh and soulful song with a definite lighter touch. This gives the track a slightly disembodied vibe as it’s allied to a relentless, chugging beat with the mismatch making for a striking track. Tedder’s vocals don’t convince but it is well-executed and its inclusion diversifies the record’s sound.
The predilection for stunning titles continues with album denouement “Kid Nothing and Never Ending Naked Nightmare,” a perplexing mash up of styles even for this group. They seem to harness every pitch used earlier on the record and delight in bouncing the various archetypes off one another. The consistent guitar lines and backing vocals – a charged, slightly manic holler during the chorus – gives this the air of a thunderous rock classic, yet the structure is otherwise extremely minimal with just the rap and a melodic riff. This gives it the dual air of irreverence and confrontation, a rewarding and fitting conclusion to the album.
A lengthy silence and another spoken word outro later, The Papercut Chronicles II ends in a blaze of glory. All the essence of Gym Class Heroes is here, the “dark, organic metal sound” that Travis McCoy alluded to in interviews, and the stylish genre-hopping that earmarks them as an alluring and entertaining listen. This can put a spring in your step as much as it can make you think, with a wide-ranging and effervescent appeal that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Review written by Grace Duffy