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Picture this: you're in an abandoned industrial plant, watching horses being slaughtered, their assorted parts reassembled into new and horrible creatures, only to watch them creep, crawl and limp towards you as they come off the assembly line; you're helpless and alone, no, wait, except for that fire-breathing, knife-wielding foreman bent on making you pay for trespassing on his experiment, and just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, a plane crashes into a bus crashes into a wheel barrow, and even while faced with all of this incredible danger of a quick yet terrifying death, the wheel barrow crashes into your leg and you bleed to death slowly, with all the horse-creatures and butchers and planes and buses laughing at you from the fringes of your consciousness; of all things threatening, you were killed by a fucking WHEEL BARROW! Did you picture it? Good. Singer John Congleton of the Paper Chase dreams this death every night, and that sort of emotional experience parallels the music he writes.
Hide the Kitchen Knives brings you 48 minutes closer to suicide. We usually think of music as something we enjoy, something to provide us with entertainment. Well if listening to horses being killed by priests stabbing a pole through their throats in a ritual sacrificial ceremony (of which Congleton has so kindly provided us a sound clip) is your idea of entertainment, I hope I never meet you. Ever. The Paper Chase cuts their music into your wrists in a bathtub full of electrical equipment. They're that brutal. What hundreds of melodramatic hardcore bands try to achieve with overdrive and growling, John Congleton does with one gurgling, wavering phrase.
I'd call it a concept album, except I don?t want to think about whatever concept Congleton had in mind when he wrote this stuff. The instruments are static throughout; the drums and bass are always deep and industrial-sounding while the guitars use largely the same distortion (to terrifying effect). To increase the album's cohesiveness, the Paper Chase reuse found-sound clips (though I don't want to know where they found them) throughout the record. Congleton also revisits several hip catch-phrases such as 'You better hide those kitchen knives!' and sugary themes such as swinging axes and baseball bats. The Paper Chase is post-everything, mixing industrial, jazz, hardcore, punk and just a little bit of despair to create an atmosphere of waste and decay. Most important, though, is singer John Congleton's voice. Oh, what a voice! You can bet he won't be singing opera any day soon, 'cause he's got a voice that would give a serial killer nightmares. He's half wavering croon and half desperate shriek, but he's all creepy. Congleton's vocals, like the instruments that back them, stay cohesive throughout. Most of the songs stay in the same vein without being redundant, and the album follows a logical path until its logical (if you're psychotic) conclusion.
'When you're happy and you're safe / you'll do anything to keep it that way,' sings Congleton on 'I Did a Terrible Thing.' Either he's never been happy and safe or he didn't try hard enough to stay that way, 'cause something pushed him over the edge. 'I came up with the lyrics after I had a horrific dream that I was on a camping trip in the woods with everyone I ever knew well in my life. Once they were all asleep, I set the forest on fire and escaped through the slit in my tent. That dream still kind of haunts me. I wonder what that means...' said Congleton when asked about the subject matter of the album opener. Yeah, hmm, what EVER could that mean? Could I get a dream analyst in here please? Ahem. Song titles like 'Where Have Those Hands Been?', 'I'm Gonna Spend the Rest of My Life Lying,' 'A Nice Family Dinner, For Once,' 'AliverAlungAkidneyAthumb' and 'Sleep with the Fishes' do more than hint at the tone of the record, and it never deviates. Ever.
There isn't a happy moment on Hide the Kitchen Knives, which makes it a very difficult listen. 'Don't say I never warned you / when I set the house on fire' and 'I wanna see your hair hanging from the trees' are just a sampling of a dark lyrical genius at play; never before has music actually been able to scare me. It's like watching The Ring on an in-casket TV screen with a corpse sharing the coffin. Okay, maybe not THAT scary, but shit, it had my hair raised.
The album closes with the symbolic 'Out Comes the Knives.' Congleton traces the path he takes all the way from the terrible thing he did (album-opener 'I Did a Terrible Thing,' if you missed that reference) to the moment it all ends. Much like the opener, 'Out Come the Knives' relies on chillingly clean, un-tuned piano and distorted vocals. Right around the three minute mark, pseudo-epic drums, strings and chorus mock everything that characterizes 'emotional epics' today. The drums are bare, sans cymbal; the strings deviate in and out of tune; and the backing vocals must be from the Chorus of the Church of Satan. Congleton cries 'Here comes the pride' until your ears bleed, and suddenly everything cuts except a distant beeping (perhaps a life support machine?) until that, too, is silenced suddenly. Whatever was coming has come and Congleton is no more. So put the kids to bed, pad the walls of your room and lock the kitchen drawer and give The Paper Chase another mind to infect. You'll never look at horses the same way again.