Paper Tiger inhabit a niche that is all their own – synth, sax and beats all grounded by a live band with heavy production nous and a strong jazz and hip-hop influence, on occasion peppered with knowledgeably sideways lyricism from rapper Raphael Attar. It’s a sound that saw the Leeds-based outfit come to wider attention with the release of 2013’s Laptop Suntan album, plus saw them attract left field talents such as Stones Throw luminaries Dudley Perkins and Homeboy Sandman.
‘We were all musicians before we knew how to produce music with computers,’ said the band’s Greg Surmacz in an interview with Bonafide last year. This live element is a strong through-line in this second album, a strong sense of collaboration between musicians aiding its uniqueness in a field often dominated by single-producer driven music. Blast Off, appropriately for its title, is a trip. Robots, Blade Runner, cats and video games are all fair game, so it would be fair to say you’ll enjoy the journey a little more if, say, you’re a little familiar with Quantum Leap.
Two sides to the band manifest themselves over the course of listening to Blast Off: spacey instrumentation and spaced-out vocals. Instrumental tracks are as justified as the vocal ones, not there as filler but to celebrate and give room to the aforementioned musical talent. Verse-chorus-verse is bastardised accordingly, a little room for improv offering space to widen the reach of tracks. Most often the vocals are provided by the unique Attar, a one-man cultural reference rap machine (‘I like referencing films but ain’t seen none’, he cracks wise in Rap Game Ted Danson). The witticisms don’t overpower the album though, because as well as heavy instrumentals, extra weight is brought in by guest vocal contributions by some choice collaborators. The single Weight In Space has a prominent role for Shafiq Husayn of Sa Ra (who’s also fresh off the excellent White Boiz album with Krondon), a sparkling slice of cosmic soul that, frankly, no one else but this lot together could have made.
Other standout elements for me include the immediacy of opener Asimo’s Run (presumably an homage to the titular robot assistant’s famous strut), which sets the scene with a woven palette of synth stabs, brass and bass; the future boom bap wobblefunk of Ooh with Pyramid Vritra, including a Surmacz saxophone line which will become your earworm for the day; the line ‘I’m a gonna be late like a wanker’ from Rush; and the smooth flow of Chester Watson on closer Origami Sessions.
Organic, energetic, non-conformist and filled with unexpected sonics, Blast Off is an album you’ll find something new in with each subsequent listen, and a proper long player to lose yourself in.