Paulson has managed to be one of the few notable musicians besides Bon Jovi, to stumble out of New Jersey. Amidst a haze of glorious praise and an equally remarkable DIY attitude, they have netted themselves in a plethora of shows, untold amounts of street cred, and respect among their fans and peers. But unlike Bon Jovi, and New Jersey alike, they’ve also managed to avoid being repetitive or creatively barren, while doing it for 8 years to boot. That’s quite a long time.
Time is a complex, and nefarious thing for music, and musicians in general. Time treats most musicians with the same regard as wine. A wild experiment that is dependent on the virtues of patience, dedication, and most of all creativity. If you are one of the few musicians that manages to stand the test of it all, you will have a catalog that sheds light on the birth of your idea, evolution, and ultimate maturity. But at the same time, just like wine… music can fall victim to any number of factors that would serve to make the end result bitter, sometimes with very little sweet to fall back on.
So it’s no surprise that when we find something that breaks the barriers of mediocrity, we do one of two things. We either run to the phone (or whatever your preferred method of communication is) and tell every single person on our contact list. Or you clutch it to your chest, and hope that no one else learns of your discovery, for fear that the band will somehow be poisoned by fame and recognition; or that the music that you love and cherish so dearly, will never be the same.
The fear isn’t without merit. Most bands lauded with critical praise don’t make it past a second album without any casualties. Whether it be fans that are left confused by a change in sound, or critics that are perplexed by the evolution… no one involved ever really seems to be pleased by progress.
It’s odd then that Paulson is able to do it so well and without having to do much in the way of damage control. They started as a melodic post hardcore band from the seemingly always overflowing sea of talent that is the east coast hardcore scene. While they managed to established a fan base, and carve out a comfortable DIY niche within the scene, they weren’t content to settle creatively. They managed to include elements of new wave and pop, and still avoided the pitfalls of sugar coated nonsensical lyrics, or worse, taking themselves far too seriously. With their EP “Ridiculous Engine” Paulson managed to both establish themselves, and their sound. Heavy bouts of screaming post hardcore noise was often suddenly replaced by delicate fuzzy synth grooves and catchy melodies. It made for an amazingly catchy collection of tunes for the disenchanted and dance prone.
But, where most bands would just plod through their own repertoire, Paulson took the extra time to grow and expand. So it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise that their second release (and first official album) “Variations” not only managed to escape the dreaded Sophomore Slump but completely blew their first body of work out of the water. Even more interesting than the albums many twists and turns through both familiar and unfamiliar territories, was the fact that their fan base remained virtually nonplussed by their musical progression. No small feat unto itself when you keep it tucked in the back of your mind, that east coast scenesters are notoriously fickle. Maybe it was that the changes themselves were so subtle that most fans never noticed that they were listening to something far more complex than it’s individual components ever accomplished on their own. Or maybe, just maybe it was the fact that Paulson was, and remains an immensely talented band.
Their last release “All At Once” is very aptly named. It’s the culmination of a band that has been dedicated to creating something very different within a genre that has seen it’s share of silly archetypes. But they somehow still manage to avoid anything that comes close to self parody. In fact beyond that, they became incredibly important. Paulson represents some of the few things that are still right within music itself. All throughout the album Paulson pushes themselves. Whether it be the absolutely breathtaking, and at the same time sincerely haunting melodies that make the heartbreaking song “Voids”, or the amazing groove and energy of “Ultra High”. The album is never at a loss for ideas to play with, or sound to explore. It is constantly pushing the definition of their own sound, and expands on almost every single idea they have ever crafted. The resulting product is pretty amazing. Which just may explain why even through their third total reinvention in sound, their number of fans have remained largely unchanged.
It’s undoubtedly a sign of a great band that they have managed to take east coast hardcore kids, and get them singing along to infectiously sincere ballads about love and loss, without the horrendous lip gloss and eyeliner that seems to go hand in hand with such subject matter. And all the while they’ve done it without falling prey to themselves or the industry. Their work ethic, passion and music, is pretty much unquestionable at this point. And if their new song “No For an Answer” is any indicator of how their next album is shaping up, then with a little luck and a healthy amount of word of mouth, 2010 will most likely belong to a little Midtown New Jersey band named Paulson.
It will be about damn time too.