Though Paper begins rather unassumingly with solo piano playing, Tristan Shorr's debut Gideon Wolf collection (available in a limited edition of 200 stamped and hand-numbered CDs) is anything but tentative. And talk about bold: at the ripe old age of twenty-nine and with no prior training or experience, Shorr, a self-taught drummer and percussionist, decided to make music his formal career choice, after which he self-released an EP and pursued studies at Goldsmiths University. Applying an assured hand to the title track, Shorr first has the piano's repetitions subtly manipulated by the live processing of Tom Mudd, who extends the notes until they bleed like guitar tones, before unexpectedly shifting away from the piano and into a vocal episode that finds voices swelling into a multi-layered lamentation. It's a move that forms a natural segueway into the even more arresting “Cathedral,” which weaves wordless vocal figures into an ululating mass whose haunting, ghost-like sound wouldn't sound out of place on Akira Rabelais's 2004 spellewauerynsherde. The later “Nine Hundred Miles” revisits the vocal approach of “Cathedral” in equally striking manner, though this time with its vocal ebb-and-flow accompanied by an undercurrent of electronic rhythms and looped piano flourishes.
In “The Unknown” and “Preservation,” Shorr manipulates cellist Steph Patten's playing by multiplying it until it resembles a full orchestral section, with the full-bodied sound achieved in “Preservation” especially stirring. Live processing also figures heavily into the penultimate “All of Us,” where the piano's notes are transformed into limpid pools and crackling clouds in a way that creates memorable contrasts between the instrument in its natural and radically altered forms. The addition of a largely unadorned blues vocal part to the set-ending “Nine Hundred Miles (Redux Remix)” (earmarked as a secret bonus track) can't help but make the piece sound rather anomalous, though the effect isn't uninteresting.
The dramatic contrast between sonic focal points, be it piano, vocals, or strings, that differentiates one setting from another turns out to be one of Paper's defining characteristics (often such shifts occur within a single setting). That the album began as a series of piano improvisations is borne out, however, by the central role assumed by the instrument (Shorr himself has stated that the live recording sessions involving the combination of piano and live manipulations formed the basic guiding structure of Paper). Even when a given piece shifts the focus to voices or strings, it's more than likely that the piano will surface in some manner before the piece is over. There's a restless and uprooted quality to the album's material that's especially evident when the aforesaid changes occur abruptly within a single piece, an effect that keeps one listening but can also dilute the cohesiveness of the piece in question. Even so, Paper is an unquestionably arresting debut that suggests one would do well to keep abreast of Shorr's future work.