Often adorned in silk robes and garlanded with flowers, Jerry Paper represents the lo-fi, bedroom synth-pop alter ego of L.A. local Lucas Nathan. Operating as a soundboard for his philosophical musings, Like A Baby sees him explore a synth skewered 60s-70s jazz pop aesthetic merely hinted at on prior releases. With razor-sharp lyricism degrading materialism and society’s superficiality, Paper’s sixth outing is his most concise and accessible yet.
Whilst the multi-instrumentalist’s earlier albums were grounded in the electronically eccentric, 2016’s Toon Time Raw! saw him partner with BadBadNotGood to deliver a more conventional, band-structured sound. As an extension, Like A Baby is anchored by an improved dynamic vocal performance and the refreshing use of real instruments. Though several solos meander and a bias of brevity leaves the listener feeling short-changed with certain songs, there’s much to enjoy here for lovers of lo-fi.
A wash of snare and cymbal open proceedings before blooming into the funky groove of lead single “Your Cocoon”. Underpinned by melodic muted guitar picking, the shiny synth melody allures before the powers of Paper’s croon swallow you whole; “Wearing your new expensive hat, you think it tells us where you’re at”. “Grey Area” carves deeper into the groove of jazzy 7th chord progressions via Weyes Blood’s enchanting backing vocals and a seductive flute. Hereby exploring the discomfiture of living in a figurative limbo, he hits the ground running thematically; “Grey area come and find me, in the noise of life”.
The stylised backing vocals of the upbeat bossa nova “A Moment” see Paper dispel any doubt about the cheesy, seemingly ironic tones intended thus far. As he reaches higher notes through a satisfying chorus progression, you can throw away your guilty conscience and succumb even deeper to the layered, albeit at times indecipherable, vocals.
Beyond its soothing acoustic strum, “Something’s Not Right” sees the first fault on the record. Rather than looking to go the way of earlier songs’ satisfying releases, its chorus wanders off without impact. In contrast, the existential and woozy nature of “Did I Buy It?” offers much more. The cascading arpeggiated synths of Mild High Club’s Alex Brettin slot in seamlessly alongside the phased vocals describing daily dilemmas; “In my car I think about the big stuff, money, fame, misery and those kinds of things”. Brettin’s influence is just as pertinent on “Baby”, lending his production skills to create an alt-funk sound that mirrors his own project.
“Commercial Break” sucks you in with a melt-in-your-mouth acoustic verse before giving way to a driven guitar lick that packs an unexpected punch. It further highlights Paper’s satirical nuance as he ridicules materialistic obsession; “You seen it in the magazine, seen people lookin’ clean, how can I get that pristine, should I buy these jeans?”. “My God” goes the same way, questioning the weight placed on financial worth; “Calculate the cost of my life down to a single cent, to see how my life went”. As synths swirl over chorus-laden guitar, it’s the crafty use of a sitar running over the chorus melody that creates an infectious hook.
One of the strongest songs on the record, “Everything Borrowed”, sees Paper cut loose with his expressive croons amid the harmoniously punchy keys. The irresistibly forlorn movement from Maj 7 to minor chords in the chorus allows him a foundation from which to move around his vocal scales, a critical complaint of his prior release thus rectified.
“Huge Laughs” follows this up with a more slacker style track that promises much in its rollicking verses before losing its way, opting for a meandering synth solo that peters out. The comparatively complete “You” builds from simple strums into an explosively psychedelic riff whilst querying “when you strip down to your skin, what’s left of the you you’ve built”. However, it’s not all depressive existentialism as the unifying realisations of the human struggle on “Losing the Game” show. What initially feels like a languid waltz in the verse sees another shamelessly cheesy hook and backing vocal empower it beyond expectation. It’s frustrating then that the outro, once again, comes far too soon with the song in dire need of another refrain.
An album very much aimed at the assessment of contemporary sociological superficiality wouldn’t be complete without a look behind the poppy, gleamy façade. Closer, “More Bad News”, with its pensive strings and minor key, is exactly that. Easily the weakest song on the record, it remains necessary for the closing comments of where we’re at; “I left my home, it feels healthier, I’d ask a friend, but I don’t know where they went”.
Like A Baby sees Lucas Nathan harnessing his formerly overreaching eclectic energies into a cohesive and concentrated album that bubbles and pops with all the cheesiness it aspires to. Whilst this light soundscape is balanced against deeper themes which weigh heavier, lyricism imbued with a blunt sense of humour prevents suffocation. Hooks are plentiful and infectious, however the brevity and aimlessness of several outros frustratingly inhibit the record from reaching an attainable high. Consistency aside, you can’t fault Paper’s attention to detail with tracks littered with subtle textures and arrangements that honour the 70s soft-rock aesthetic.