For fans of the collective known as Doomtree, Paper Tiger’s solo outing has been greatly anticipated. For those unfamiliar with the producer behind the work of Doomtree, a visit to the group’s official website says it all. “His beats are identifiable for their infections piano melodies, dark string lines, and crisp drum programming.” A perfect description of what to expect on Made Like Us. But, in the immortal words of Guru, the question remains. Does it work?
The short answer places the listener solidly on the fence. Tracks like the opener, aptly named “First Track”, showcase the Paper Tiger’s best use of the piano melody and crisp drums. The track establishes the somewhat somber mood that is prevalent throughout the album, but still makes Paper Tiger the star of the show. That is, you don’t imagine an MC riding the beat because you don’t want an MC to interfere with the track.
That isn’t necessarily a good, or bad, thing. On “The Bully Plank”, Paper Tiger’s piano and drums combo is enhanced by a vocal sample – and it comes together beautifully. In this instance, the listener can easily imagine an MC, or a vocalist, fitting easily into the mix. And, in this case, it would add to an already stellar track.
Then there is “Make Make 2”, which serves as a follow up to “Make Make” from Paper Tiger’s False Hopes EP. Although the track opens with a somewhat airy, or mystic, vibe, the vocals and the more aggressive instrumentation combine to create a song that is unlike anything on Made Like Us. And that’s a good thing in this instance – even though the track, on its own, is slightly above-average.
Doomtree cohort Dessa makes an appearance on the album for the more straight-forward “Palace”, along with “And the Camera”. During “Palace”, the piano-driven track feels out of place amidst an album full of subtlety. Dessa’s vocals, despite advancing the somber tone of the album, feel out of place; the song follows a more traditional structure, which is not the case for the rest of Made Like Us.
At the end of the album, Paper Tiger offers the listener “Cigana”, which is three minutes of guitars, upbeat drum programming and horns. In other words, it’s a glimpse at something completely different. And it works. But after a 30-second hiatus in the middle of the track, the Doomtree producer returns to the theme of the album: somber piano, hard-hitting drums and a slower pace. And it also works. In fact, it’s a great way to end the album. And, for the record, an MC would sound absolutely insane over the second part of “Cigana”.
Unfortunately, Paper Tiger’s “infections piano melodies, dark string lines, and crisp drum programming” don’t always work to his advantage. Tracks like “2nd Day Back” and “The Ritual” have a been-there, done-that feel to them (piano, somber mood, dark strings), while “The Painters Arm” and “5360”, although both unique cuts, don’t stand out after repeated listens.
Made Like Us is definitely a unique record and, as often happens with a record that doesn’t sound like much else, there are hits and misses. Die-hard Doomtree fans will appreciate Paper Tiger’s solo mission, while new fans will crave more consistency on his next effort.